Wednesday, June 23, 2004


I wrote: "it isn't verse because it has a recognizable count and beat":
  • recognizable in that one shouldn't first look for pattern then for detail. I often criticize theoretical defences of pattern in my prose and verse, as well as my research. Folks enjoy the tranquility in patterns without ever having to come to terms with the phenomenal moment itself experienced within the detail, in our case, of any well-crafted line. In other words, if a line makes sense and applies known patterns with alacrity (ascertains rather than apprehends,) then critics (both author-critics and reader-critics) are satisfied because they may categorize the product at will. We are taught to put the squares in a bucket with other squares and not with the triangles, and such mixing is prevented because the bucket with squares can only be entered through a well-crafted formal square through which a triangle is prevented to pass. There is a machine for language, built by a holy-few humans, that determines correctness in the same way. What follows categorization of prose and verse is a critical tradition concerned with its own self-assured pronouncements about the work itself. Both the work and its performance are significantly and beneficially ignored for tortured self-agrandizements in critical essay form. Even dissertations become a system of one-up-manship, wherein a writer pays over-long homage to a well-read tradition and then adds something "new" to it, thereby re-enforcing it in order to find a place within it that should last long enough to make a decent living. Hence, writers like to speak about being or becoming "established," which has a (w)ring to it of "published" but actually means "relatively accepted by others because I have book out there somewhere and look I can point back to it."

I wrote: "Any cute monkey can stupidly count meter, smoosh a line together, rhyme with practice, and maintain tradition--more importantly find him or herself in that tradition":
  • can stupidly count in that one can simply learn to recognize patterns in language without having any real apprehension of language working. Linguists often make ridiculous statements about other languages to justify specific privileged worldviews on behalf of cultural value systems (Ideological Structures.) Students often copy rather than recollect. My students last quarter wrote sestinas. The better sestinas, the ones we enjoyed the most, were written by authors who gave up within their confinement, those who let language find its way. (I will get to form and content below.) The students who fought to fit the form, worked hard to comprehend the sestina itself, were generally unsuccessful in pleasing themselves and their audience. Saying, "I give. What next? Tell me something," isn't easy because we're often asked to put others into the position of knowing without doing. Do the iambic pentameter (for example) is better than know iambic pentameter because doing it appears and is apprehended while knowing it simply ascertains an abstract value in its possible appearance and apprehension. Sure, there are occurrences of iambic pentameter and then there are not-occurrences of the form. Anyhow, I think the decision to be a student or an author is a political decision, a landmark for any artist. Nothing wrong with a cute monkey copying form; something wrong with authors insisting a traditional, formal approach is necessary.

I wrote: "I need only look at Joan Houlihan to see how ridiculous criticism can become--she wants a line that means something for her and is not willing to work for meaning with an author. Simply. Dumb criticism. Pointless, in the sense that pointing in criticism should intend towards something the writer, reader, and critic have in common. Houlihan, and other critics (Himmelfarb for history) simply have a too comfortable existence relying on the past to present itself in the now."
  • When I write "for her," I intend to illuminate an oppressive rhetoric, one in which the rhetor comes to a discussion with requirements that must be met before anybody is permitted to participate. Such oppressive rhetoric strips authors, specifically, and readers, secondarily, of agency. Joan Houlihan's needs must be met first. And I heard, and have heard before, in Mike's tone, such a demand. Hence my sharp disagreement, which was met with his response to exclude: Gary is ignorant.

  • When I write "pointless", I mean to illuminate that we can encounter a writer's work with each other, thus negating oppressive rhetoric through purposeful use of the conflict found in using original and present social difference to arrive at common understanding(s). Of course, this modified form of critical agency directly confronts all eruptions of teleogical dominance that Tradition promotes and tames them, assigning any traditional response merely one of many possible approaches to reading and writing. Pound may have been deranged, but herein lies a useful interpretation of his attack on the metronomal, the da de da and all its la di da made sound.

On prosody as an imposition:
  • Finding primary purpose in form is an unfortunate result of prosody studies for many, though not all, readers. I enjoy studying prosody but must admit reading poetry and reacting to the poems through writing much more beneficial to my maturation as a writer. This may be as much a reflection of how I have learned since childhood--self-taught until graduate school--as it is any significant critique of studying prosody. Nothing worse than going into a discussion about poetry where someone begins by reiterating a formal definition that, consciously or not, is an attempt to limit how a poem is read. Boring.

  • Finding primary purpose in form is an unproductive way to experience verse because it pre-limits and authorizes readings to verse forms that have no necessary relationship to the way a reader is predisposed to encounter verse; therefore producing inauthentic readings and reading experiences. I always found stunting learning how to read poetry. I found it useful only after I learned how to put the "how to" aside to use as a method for critical reading other readings. But I had to put it into perspective. Being told--you cannot scan properly--hampers folks desire to work at cultivating poetry itself. Andrea says to me all the time: "Gary, I don't know how to read poetry." Really! Poetry itself is accessible without knowing scansion, without knowing its history. It is immediately accessible through reading or listening. Writing "good" poetry, is not limited to those who can expertly craft a poem that produces, first, a recognizable and accepted, traditional line. What is productive about a poetry that is simply recognizable as poetry?

  • Finding primary purpose in form is elitist and purposefully, though not necessarily consciously, excludes consideration of social/cultural difference(s). Simply put, by first demanding that a reader and possible writer knows a specialized jargon before he or she can participate in reading and writing properly, we simply cut poetry off from any inclusive participation. Criticizing a critic for scanning improperly, counting in a strange manner, is fine and well; modifying such creative attempts as "ignorant" is ridiculous. Actually, Mike refers to Language Poets as lower life forms (vis. phlogistons.) We should be able to disagree about how to listen, hear, read, write, versify, scan, et al, without fear of condemnation from the white guys who know best. I get offended when the limits, the poles, of interpretation get set by the Frost and The Pound, two jackass white men who certainly fail horribly to represent the majority of poetry being written now and then. Important though they may be to our heritage as writers, I want to know why never a woman mentioned as the ground for tradition? Why typically a white American quoted? I am not ignorantly querying with these questions. This is from fifteen years straight scholarship: white guys get the call because tradition is the bedrock of white masculinity. Unless we wish to argue for a natural order, the answer points to one of many problems in traditional approaches to answering the questions "What is Poetry?" and "What is a Poet?"

  • I think that we need to move the primary purpose away from form. But this is an old discussion we all enjoy concerning Form and Content. And I often find myself walking into a field and discovering, sometimes accidentally and others carelessly or recklessly, a form ready to use, all content thereby falling into place and time with line. If I were to return to the same place more than once, I may enter it differently or notice something "new." Of course, nothing there is new. Hence, I find it hard to argue for any concrete, always recognizable form. A linguistic approach might consider features of relevance in verse. For instance: How can we determine what may be inferred from the rhythm in a series of lines? Or: How can I know what is explicitly there if FIRE, a one-syllable word, can be pronounced in different ways. I have many students who speak English as a second language. They experience lines in verse in many self-found, creative ways and produce useful meanings that are productive for the entire class--or poetry community. Their misrecognitions or mispronounciations (notice that we merely have pejorative ways to describe such learning experiences--accidents, mistakes--rather than finding productive vocabulary for such instances?) break all the rules, but uncover incredibly rich meaning simply through experience with a poem.

  • I am not trying to sentimentalize such readings, or even praise in a strange way naivete. I am trying to find a way to say that prosody is a technical field that may be important but is always somehow secondary to poetry.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I read through all this verbiage carefully. At first I wondered why you were so defensive, and then it came to me:

You can't do it, can you? You haven't got the chops.