What is the Plumbline School? The answer is sketchy and schematic. And this is not a bad thing : its inchoate character offers an opening for each of us, & for our readers, to articulate a variety of perspectives & insights.
But the amorphousness may also be contributing to the sort of halting, dormant feel of this weblog (though the prime factor, I'm pretty sure, is that we're all mighty busy...). & I must here register my disagreement with the position of Timothy Steele, at least as presented in previous posts by Conrad. I view Steele's stance as simplistic. First of all, he sets up a rigid binary between what he is terming "form" and the free-verse experiments of Modernism (and postmodernism). Secondly, he develops his polemic by laying the blame for an assumed decline in contemporary poetry at the feet of "the schools". It is exactly this kind of superficial polemic - so familiar on both (illusory) wings of "experiment" & "tradition" - which the Plumbline School was organized to overcome. So I'm going to try to re-formulate some of my own basic ideas about this project, in hope of stimulating others - to comment, or to join as new members. (Note : the basic orientation which we share, the organizing ideas, can be found in the early posts to this site - for which please visit the archive.)
I'll try to be a simple & clear as I can. The Plumbline School, as I see it, is interested in the underlying nature of poetry, its ur-form, beneath the layers of specific techniques and styles. Thus, we are exploring a hypothetical middle ground, where "form" emerges, not as one half of the traditional duplex "form-&-content", but as a new, living shape derived from the fusion of style and subject-matter, of art and experience.
In this we would follow some of the directions outlined by Aristotle in the Poetics, in which he describes the form of poetry as a new, distinct shape, not reducible to its words alone, but analogous to 3-dimensional sculpture : resulting from, emanating from its language - a new & distinct dramatic/conceptual/sensible/affective unity. Out of this amalgamating, fusing process, something paradoxical happens : now content is form; & the formal dimensions - the words, the music, the spectacle (in dramatic poetry, at least) - are actually its material content, the building blocks out of which this new & previously-indefinable shape in born.
In this scenario, the old cliches about "form & content", style & subject-matter, which have provided fodder for all the literary battles of at least the last 100 years, are set somewhat to one side. We are looking at a middle ground whose substance is form-as-fusion, in which style & subject-matter are both inalienable and interchangeable. "The Word is Psyche", as Mandelstam put it : a physiological, psychological organism : an experience.
& yet I think the battles will never completely disappear, because this form/content binary is rooted in a more fundamental dichotomy : between experience and art. The balance of Aristotelian form, which we are proposing, is itself grounded in a more basic balance : between reality and its representations. This is where the "plumbline" search for balance, harmony, and modesty of means (Ars est celare artem, as Horace says : Art camouflages art) becomes a modus operandi : a means by which the poet opens the channels between a new, unknown creation (the work of art) and the matrix of shared experience and intelligibility from which it emerged, and within which it discovers shared meaning. In this way the poem can be likened to a gyroscope : spinning & wobbling, magically centered on itself - yet at the same time subject to the horizontal thread of the tightrope along which it travels, and to the vertical weight of gravity holding it to a deeper center (the earth).
In a follow-up post I'll try to describe how this orientation has developed, for me, from an absorption with Osip Mandelstam's life-work...
& thinking thus of Mandelstam, I realize now that my image of poetry-as-gyroscope is itself insufficient. Yes, in poetry, we seek this free-spinning balance between opposites. Yet the poem is not a gyroscope : not simply an object, or a toy. The poem is bread : the poem is wine : the poem is flower. The poem is the offspring of a dialogue. The poem is lovingly communicative : it is fundamentally diaological : a form of love.