Monday, November 29, 2010
On being not so erinaceous as poets
Poets are today imaginative writers who use the technique of verse. This technique, though employed by the ancients for almost every form of utterance and record, from songs to dramas and epics, from legal codes to medical treatises, has come to be confined in our epoch to functions of a specialized kind. Where the novelist deals in character, adventure and situation, the poet is usually limited to the expression of emotion and mood or to the simple description of people and objects. As a consequence, being a poet is rarely a full-time job, and the poet has large spaces in life which are not filled by literary activity proper and in which they occupy themselves with a kind of professional politics. Poets form into groups, which in their combinations, disruptions and recombinations, their debates, practical jokes and fierce battles, tend to keep them in a state of excitement. In this group instinct they somewhat resemble painters--though painters by reason of the fact that they practice a genuine handicraft instead of a purely intellectual metier, have a certain amount of physical work to tire them and are not so erinaceous as poets. The reactions of groups of poets toward one another may be said to correspond more or less to the reactions of individual novelists.
-- Edmund Wilson, "The Literary Worker's Polonius: A Brief Guide for Authors and Editors" - ca. 1935, reprinted in Shores of Light (via Jennifer Lowe)
Pictured: Mr. Polonius