Showing posts with label experimental poetry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label experimental poetry. Show all posts

Monday, July 16, 2012

Experiment is old-fashioned


I am not interested in "experiment" but in avant-garde work which can take the creative step backwards to join with the past. I consider "experiment" in all fields old-fashioned; where so much that was "given" is now man-made, the aim should be choice - i.e. the measure of science & the arts should be decency, not the self-dramatization of man.
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... real tradition consists in feeling how poetry was, and out of that, how it should be now, etc. - not, that is, just parodying tradition.  

-- Ian Hamilton Finlay

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Was Robert Bridges a modernist?



Was Robert Bridges a modernist?

Naw.  No comment box agitation here!  Was T.S. Eliot a modernist?  Oh, sure!  Modern all the way!

But as Christopher Ricks notes, much in a Dantesque (a word dating, by the way, from the 19th century) passage of Little Gidding II owes its verse movement, its (dare we call it) mastery, to the old master, Bridges - in particular to a poem of 1880 which comes to mind just now as a snowstorm rages here in the cityscape...

London Snow


When men were all asleep the snow came flying,
In large white flakes falling on the city brown,
Stealthily and perpetually settling and loosely lying,
    Hushing the latest traffic of the drowsy town;
Deadening, muffling, stifling its murmurs failing;
Lazily and incessantly floating down and down:
    Silently sifting and veiling road, roof and railing;
Hiding difference, making unevenness even,
Into angles and crevices softly drifting and sailing.
    All night it fell, and when full inches seven
It lay in the depth of its uncompacted lightness,
The clouds blew off from a high and frosty heaven;
    And all woke earlier for the unaccustomed brightness
Of the winter dawning, the strange unheavenly glare:
The eye marvelled - marvelled at the dazzling whiteness;
    The ear hearkened to the stillness of the solemn air;
No sound of wheel rumbling nor of foot falling,
And the busy morning cries came thin and spare.
    Then boys I heard, as they went to school, calling,
They gathered up the crystal manna to freeze
Their tongues with tasting, their hands with snowballing;
    Or rioted in a drift, plunging up to the knees;
Or peering up from under the white-mossed wonder!'
'O look at the trees!' they cried, 'O look at the trees!'
    With lessened load a few carts creak and blunder,
Following along the white deserted way,
A country company long dispersed asunder:
    When now already the sun, in pale display
Standing by Paul's high dome, spread forth below
His sparkling beams, and awoke the stir of the day.
    For now doors open, and war is waged with the snow;
And trains of sombre men, past tale of number,
Tread long brown paths, as toward their toil they go:
    But even for them awhile no cares encumber
Their minds diverted; the daily word is unspoken,
The daily thoughts of labour and sorrow slumber
At the sight of the beauty that greets them, for the charm they have broken.

Ooh, nasty-quiet!  Yet Eliot, Ricks notes, "may have found the example something to hearken to. Eliot's first five lines end with 'morning,' 'night,' 'unending,' 'tongue,' 'homing;' Bridges's with 'flying,' 'brown,' 'lying,' town,' 'failing.' True, what came flying in Little Gidding was not the snow but enemy aircraft. Little Gidding: 'First Complete Draft 7 July 1941.' This was the year in which Eliot became Bridges's publisher, when Faber and Faber issued Selected Poems by Robert Bridges, within their series Sesame Books. 'London Snow' is there."

And when Bridges died, Eliot wrote: "It is certain that his experimentation has served a valuable purpose.  It has helped to accustom readers of verse to a more liberal conception of verse technique, and to the notion that the development of technique is a serious and unceasing subject of study among verse writers; it has helped to protect other verse writers of less prestige, against the charge of being just 'rebels' or 'freaks'..."

Even if you are weary of it at last, the past is a bridge to the future.

Friday, January 16, 2009

On more experimentalism and less hegemony

Milton and Hopkins were more experimental than all y'all put together! And Milton was more radical and anti-hegemonic than you are. And Hopkins had a keener social conscience than you or I do, working as he did in the slums of Edinburgh and among the poor of Ireland to the ruin of his own health. And Blake was a better blogger than anybody. These roads do not lead to "quietude," though neglect of them leads to crappy poetry. And so - how heartening to read Ron Silliman's terrific advice-for-poets.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

All the people in the book enterd into the room & they could not talk any more to the present purpose

Etruscan Column then star[t]ing up & clenching both his fists was prepared to give a formal answer to the company But Ob[t]use Angle, entering the room having made a gentle bow, proceeded to empty his pockets of a vast number of papers, turned about & sat down wiped his [head] with his pocket handkerchief & shutting his eyes began to scratch his head.

"Well, gentlemen," said he, "what is the cause of strife?

The Cynic answer'd, "They are only quarreling about Voltaire."

"Yes," said the Epicurean, "& having a bit of fun with him."

"And," said the Pythagorean, "endeavoring to incorporate their souls with their bodies,"

Obtuse Angle giving a grin, said, "Voltaire understood nothing of the Mathematics, and a man must be a fool i'faith not to understand the Mathematics."

Inflammable Gass turning round hastily in his chair said, "Mathematics he found out a number of Queries in Philosophy."

Obtuse Angle shutting his eyes & saying that he always understood better when he shut his eyes [It is not of use to make] "In the first place it is of no use for a man to make Queries but to solve them, for a man may be a fool & make Queries but a man must have good sound sense to solve them. a query & an answer are as different as a strait line & a crooked one. secondly--"

"I--I--I--aye! Secondly, Voltaire's a fool," says the Epicurean.

"Pooh," says the Mathematician scratching his head with double violence, "it is not worth Quarreling about."

The Antiquarian here got up--& hemming twice to shew the strength of his Lungs, said, "But my Good Sir, Voltaire was immersed in matter, & seems to have understood very little but what he saw before his eyes, like the Animal upon the Pythagoreans lap always playing with its own tail."

"Ha! Ha! Ha!" said Inflammable Gass, "He was the Glory of France. I have got a bottle of air that would spread a Plague."

Here the Antiquarian shruggd up his shoulders & was silent [talkd for half an hour] while Inflammable Gass talk'd for half an hour.

When Steelyard, the lawgiver, coming in stalking--with an act of parliament in his hand, said that it was a shameful thing that acts of parliament should be in a free state, it had so engrossed his mind that he did not salute the company.

Mrs Gimblet drew her mouth downwards.

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So all the people in the book enterd into the room & they could not talk any more to the present purpose

Friday, October 10, 2008

Hurry up, it's time, please... to make it new!

See how many of the 100 most common words in the English language you can guess in 5 minutes... (click here or on the first page of Beowulf, pictured to the left).

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The majority of the following poems are to be considered as experiments... Readers accustomed to the gaudiness and inane phraseology of many modern writers, if they persist in reading this book to its conclusion, will perhaps frequently have to struggle with feelings of strangeness and awkwardness: they will look round for poetry, and will be induced to enquire by what species of courtesy these attempts can be permitted to assume that title. It is desirable that such readers, for their own sakes, should not suffer the solitary word Poetry, a word of very disputed meaning, to stand in the way of their gratification; but that, while they are perusing this book, they should ask themselves if it contains a natural delineation of human passions, human characters, and human incidents; and if the answer be favorable to the author’s wishes, that they should consent to be pleased in spite of that most dreadful enemy to our pleasures, our own pre-established codes of decision.

Readers of superior judgment may disapprove of the style in which many of these pieces are executed it must be expected that many lines and phrases will not exactly suit their taste. It will perhaps appear to them, that wishing to avoid the prevalent fault of the day, the author has sometimes descended too low, and that many of his expressions are too familiar, and not of sufficient dignity. It is apprehended, that the more conversant the reader is with our elder writers, and with those in modern times who have been the most successful in painting manners and passions, the fewer complaints of this kind will he have to make.

- From the introduction to a volume of experimental poetry: Lyrical Ballads, published 1798

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The entire book is only a "language experiment"

That's what (the words in quotation marks are his) Walt Whitman sometimes thought of his own Leaves of Grass. H.L. Mencken comments on this in his own greatly obsessive work, The American Language, saying that "As everyone knows, Whitman delighted in filling his poetry and prose with ... new words, among them, the verbs to promulge, to eclaircise, to diminute, to imperturbe, to effuse and to inure, the adjectives ostent and adamic, the adverb affetuoso, and the nouns camerado, romanza, deliveress, literatus, acceptress and partiolist." Well, I'm very interested in a thread over on Harriet that began rather innocently with some praise for a poem by Larissa Szporluk. I don't have any particular dog in that fight, but I do wonder why such gusto as is shown by Whitman's experimentation - which boldly risked a kind of failure masked by LoG's now-canonical status (and this despite enormous textual questions!) - isn't seen as (to use Mencken's apt word) a delight, rather than a burden or lab result. As W.C.W. put it - if it ain't a pleasure, it ain't a poem... but what's your pleasure?? That's the rub...

By the way, Mencken was a decent poetry reviewer in addition to everything else: check out what he says about Ezra Pound in his Smart Set reviews! He presciently told EP in November 1936--"You made your great mistake when you abandoned the poetry business, and set up shop as a wizard in general practice."

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Speaking of Harriet, I posted a quote there on Linh Dinh's "Are You a Poet" thread that I've been mulling over for ages, and feel like reproducing it right here, as well.

"... no society can properly function without classification, without an arrangement of things and men in classes and prescribed types. This necessary classification is the basis for all social discrimination, and discrimination, present opinion to the contrary notwithstanding, is no less a constituent element of the social realm than equality is a constituent element of the political. The point is that in society everybody must answer the question of what he is - as distinct from the question of who he is - which his role is and his function, and the answer of course can never be: I am unique, not because of the implicit arrogance but because the answer would be meaningless."

- Hannah Arendt, forty years ago (in The New Yorker, of all places!) - reprinted as the introduction to Walter Benjamin, Illuminations

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Since most people know about the modern poet only that he is obscure -- i.e., that he is difficult, i.e., that he is neglected -- they naturally make a causal connection between the two meanings of the word, and decide that he is unread because he is difficult. Some of the time this is true; some of the time the reverse is true: the poet seems difficult because he is not read, because the reader is not accustomed to reading his or any other poetry. But most of the time neither is a cause... It is superficial to extract two parts from this world-high whole, and to say of them: 'This one, here, is the cause of that one, there; and that's all there is to it.'

If we were in the habit of reading poets their obscurity would not matter; and, once we are out of the habit, their clarity does not help. Matthew Arnold said, with plaintive respect, that there was hardly a sentence in Lear that he hadn't needed to read two or three times...

Randall Jarrell, "The Obscurity of the Modern Poet"

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Also brewing: poets on politics, love, and war. Or not.