Wednesday, April 8, 2009

NaPoMoPopQuiz

Most people say that the purpose of poetry is communication: that sounds as if one could be contented simply by telling somebody whatever it is one has noticed, felt or perceived. I feel it is a kind of permanent communication better called preservation, since one’s deepest impulse in writing (or, I must admit, painting or composing) is to my mind not “I must tell everybody about that” (i.e. responsibility to other people) but “I must stop that from being forgotten if I can” (i.e. responsibility towards subject). When writing a poem I am trying to construct a verbal device or machine which will, upon reading, render up the emotion I originally experienced to as many people as possible for as long as possible. You’ll remember I called it a slot machine into which the reader inserts the penny of his attention. Of course, the process of preservation does imply communication, since that is the only way an experience can be preserved, and that explains why obscurity is so often a disadvantage; the distinction between communication and preservation is one of motive, and I think the latter word gives a very proper emphasis to the language-as-preserver rather than language-as-means-of-communication. In other words it makes it sound harder, which it is! I forget if you asked me whether I thought poetry important: I’m afraid my opinion on it would be about as valuable as that of a beaver upon dams. It’s certainly important to me, but I doubt if the world would miss it much. All the same I can’t imagine how people exist without practising some form of art.

Who the heck said this? Click here for your answer!

4 comments:

Matthew Zapruder said...

Hi Don ... never would have thought that was who it was. It reminds me of course of Valery, who wrote "A poem is really a kind of machine for producing the poetic state of mind by means of words," in Poetry of Abstract Thought. Echoed by Williams in his introduction to The Wedge. I personally completely agree with all three of them, though am also a little creeped out by the innocent use of a monetary metaphor. I guess to quote Lou Reed those were different times. Or maybe they weren't.

Henry Gould said...

Very sensible... Larkin must have been right-handed. Being the contrarian nut everybody takes me for, I have to quibble, though...

Seems to me that a work of art is essentially evocative. Of feelings, of sense impressions, of concepts. & it's not so much the particular emotion, linked to the particular experience, conveyed by the poem, that we remember : it's the POEM ITSELF that we remember.

The poem is a kind of steadfast generator of diverse feelings & thoughts, a perpetual motion machine (Eliot's Chinese vase, still moving in its stillness). In laboring to give birth to a poem, the poet relives, explores & comprehends past experience in new ways. So I think "preservation" is slightly limited as a term to describe the "purpose" of poetry.

Henry Gould said...

p.s. I understand that Larkin's defined his OWN purpose very clearly here : & it makes sense. But "preservation" - memorializing singular & distinct emotional events - is just one of many ways & purposes of poems.

jane said...

Though MZ is right to draw the comparison, Larkin misses exactly what Valery gets: that the poem produces conditions of experience, rather than simply preserving and/or communicating pre-existent thoughts and feelings. Without Valery's understanding — the kernel of constructivism — the poet remains a diarist with line breaks. I gather lots of folks like that, though.