11/11/2008

stimulating intellectual passion

Poetry needs synthesis. The world contains hundreds of languages and literatures which more and more often form and reform each other. In the 1960s, personal expression was important. Now the personal is less important, and abstraction has increased. Young people continue to have new ideas. The body of feminist literature continues to expand, as does radical and egalitrian work in many forms. If grammar is innate, then language is also and so, probably, is poetry; thus, whatever methods of writing, if we don't take this instinctive basis into account our writing will dry up. Poetry predates particular traditions and schools and will continue beyond our innovations, for poetry is bigger than each of us. And yet we want to grow beyond our instinctual roots: as we hope to become less violent and selfish, so our minds help us to see how our will and our intentions might express themselves. Theory contains intellectual speculation, which is an interesting form of connection to poetry. So, although theoretical poetry may not produce the affects of other types of poetry, it can stimulate intellectual passion. Pure humor opens the mind, satire and irony shape it, sonic qualities and imagery sway it. Sound and visual poetries add further dimensions. Today modernist, lyrical, language-oriented and surreal poetry are only a few of the forms available to us. It is fascinating to sample the great riches available across the spectrum of poetry. Why not experiment with this wide range of poetry and experience its gifts of the mind, of the emotions and of the senses?

- Judith Copithorne, Rocksalt: An Anthology of Contemporary BC Poetry

p.s. Rocksalt reading in North Van on the 21st!

9 comments:

Zachariah Wells said...

Poetry doesn't need synthesis. It is synthesis.

The sentiment expressed is admirable, but it should be noted that "modernist, lyrical, language-oriented and surreal" aren't forms; they're vague, protean, amorphous categories.

As for the rhetorical question she ends on, the answer is, for most people, that they only do what interests them. If you're interested in the whole spectrum, go for it. If you really like haiku and tanka, maybe attempting a 21st century version of the Divine Comedy ain't the best idea.

I'm always a bit puzzled by this rhetoric of open-mindednes, as if the people espousing it are actually doing all of those things. I'm not familiar with Copithorne's body of work, but I bet you she hasn't done much with heroic couplets. I don't get it when someone wants everyone to love everything. What a frigging boring world that would be. All utopias are terrifying.

Rob Taylor said...

I thought that one might get you going...

You feel, then, that she implies that those who choose "not [to] experiment with this wide range of poetry" are somehow lesser? Limited?

I can see that, but I read it instead as being stereotypically Canadian, in that "I like something and, you know, if you might find a way to like it too, that would be great. Not that you have to, or anything, it's really up to you. I'm not trying to push anything. God, I hope I haven't bothered you." kind of way. But perhaps that's just me being stereotypically Canadian…

I do agree with the idea that few writers who speak about writing, and being open to, many very different styles actually write regularly at all the different points of the spectrum - but then she does only suggest "sampling" and "exploring" (perhaps one heroic couplet along the way), which is fairly doable, and is something that she quite possibly has done over the years (not that either of us know!). If she hasn't, though, then it does seem disingenuous.

Zachariah Wells said...

I just think that the relativist, it's-all-good rhetoric is a pretty easy cover for knowing very little about many things. And I find that a lot of the people that spout it are actually pretty intolerant of a lot of things. Which is fine. I just don't like it co-existing with a pretense of openness. Not saying this is necessarily the case with Copithorne (I think we've established that neither of us knows the answer); but I hear an awful lot of everything's-okay-except-of-course-the-neo-fascist-blah-blah-blah. At best, it's naive. And yeah, a lot of it stems from a why-don't-they-love-me sense of grievance. It invariably comes down to something along the lines of "X must not like my progressive, boundary-pushing, discourse-smashing, non-linear, post-avant collages because X is a close-minded, neo-conservative philistine." Maybe X just thinks they're crappy. Maybe X is onto something. I, for instance, find Stein's _Tender Buttons_ to be an unreadable book; I can say that because I've read it twice (it didn't get any better second time around) and readability's an important quality to me in a book. What's so bad about disliking something, or disagreeing with its theoretical underpinnings? All Theory is not created equal. Much of it's actually based on error. I think I'd better stop now.

Rob Taylor said...

Yeah, I agree that theory isn't just good for theory's sake, and that simply because "Theory contains intellectual speculation, which is an interesting form of connection to poetry", that does not assure that the intellectual speculation is of any worth (or that the connection to poetry is interesting). But is Copithorne really saying otherwise?

Speaking of the "why-don't-they-love-me sense of grievance", I just read this today:

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/journal/feature.html?id=182410

Zachariah Wells said...

File this under funny coincidence. Just now read on a comments stream at Silliman's blog:

"It's perfectly possible to be completely aware of Tender Buttons, but not either to like what it does, or to consider it important from an historical perspective. Ron seems unable to acknowledge this possibility."--Curtis Faville.

Amen.

If Copithorne's not saying otherwise, then she's not saying much at all, is she?

Rob Taylor said...

Fair enough.

Daniela said...

I am all for the stimulating of intellectual passion.
I agree with Zach that poetry is synthesis. And I am also inclined to think that that is what Judith herself was saying. Fully aware that I can get hung up here on my own words, which is I think what happens when we isolate the sentence and take the chopping knife out. So I would speak to what I read in the whole.
I read Copithorne's comment as also challenging our ideas of poetry: this whole genre business we peddle in. This tendency to want to move beyond and read and enrich and move toward a more integrative experience in the poetic.

See, I am biased. I believe that we cannot separate the intellectual and the poetic. But I would question what is "theoretical poetry", as opposed to what? Ok, I will put my chopping knife away now.

Wether we would like to admit it or not poetry has theoretical underpinnings. Ok, now we can get hung up on what "theoretical" means. Just as poetry can be theory enhancing and shaping.

Ultimately though, it is a practice, and I think one that changes us from the inside out. It is a way of seeing, a way of being in the world which makes it more true to me than any theory that we can subscribe to, or wear like a new jacket.
Partly, because the proof is in the writing, in the doing.

(Oops, i said the word "true". I will probably pay for that as well.)

I am taking away, "poetry is bigger that each or us." This reminds me of Robert Bringhurst's comment that "poetry is an aspect of existence" and "poems are the tips of icebergs on the ocean of poetry." Now somehow getting stuck on haiku or heroic couplets here may seem a bit petty. Bringhurst looks at poetry as a way of finding out, and composing a poem as "a way of leaving the self behind and getting involved in something larger." (from "Thinking and Singing: Poetry and the practice of philosophy")

I am curious, about this place we go to, where we write poetry because it knows more than the one writing it (another Bringhurst thought). Where we learn along side it. Where the ego just might have to sit it out on the porch while we are there.

And I say all these things tentatively, with the uncertainty of one writing a poem and not sure where it will take me.

Thanks for the thoughts and for provoking the conversation. Opps, I realize also this is a bit too long for a comment. :-) Maybe I should have written a post.

Rob Taylor said...

Thanks for chipping in, Daniela - I like your thoughts on "theoretical poetry" and the proof being in the writing - on the "genre business" in general.

But without the "genre business" how do we discuss anything, really?

I struggle with this because I agree with the assertion that all poetry is "theoretical," but I am also wary of all poetry being just like all other poetry, as that leaves us little to talk about, doesn't it?

Man, am I beginning to sounds like Zachariah Wells?

Daniela said...

Well, yes, I can see how poetry can be like all other poetry. But I suspect that how we teach it is partly to blame.

Also, I am happy with the idea of "the genre business" as useful hooks to talk about these different manifestations of "creative" writing. It helps in classifying, it is convenient for such purposes, helpful in teaching, hooks to hang things on, but certainly not to be limited by them. Because mostly what hangs on hooks is dead meat. :-)


Could there be a balance, where we respect inherited tradition we learn from, but at the same time we sustain the playful nature of form and content in poetry? That real excitement: where you truly feel like a "maker." Where there is that divine element to it, not just for the sake of exercise. Where we are not in a hurry to say what it is, before it has become what it wants to become?

A teacher of mine reminded me recently:
Conventions are typically understood as the way things ought to be done. But the word "convene", also means "to call together."

Which suggests a fluidity. And if enough people agree, this coming together becomes the rule.
i have no idea if this has gotten me any closer, to this thing I am trying to get closer to, without knowing what it looks like. But that is poetry, and it holds the most promise at this moment for me, for not being like anything else. :-)

Ok, I hear the ding-er, my time is up. I may have to move this to my blog. Sorry again, this is not very comment-like.
daniela