Sunday, July 25, 2004

I used to not want to attend to the conceptual divisions of poetry, to just read as best I could up to myself. I knew I loved reading Keats, say, and since there seemed to be people arguing against the ‘old,’ I figured I really didn’t want to take too much time on concepts which considered Keats not-poetry. I liked listening in his poems, and that was enough for me. No doubt, my avoidance of (say) programmatic avant-garde-ism was also a reaction designed to keep down cognitive dissonance and keep what was already overwhelming—poetry itself—as available to my consciousness as possible.

I also didn’t think much of anyone who dismissed poems based on ‘school-ism’ the other way. It was obvious there were poems I wanted to read and steal rhythm from which were not in the ‘quietude’ camp. I just did my best and kept a little more willfully ignorant than, I think, I would have admitted. But my ears were open, and I read as catholic as I could manage.

Growing older, I think I need more possibility to accommodate certain poetic impulses I have had and not known really what to do with, or been able to invent for myself some form to accommodate as well as I used to think I’d be able to, once I’d internalized the lessons on formality, argument, sound, and self from those ‘masters’ I’d been drawn to. It’s a shame I didn’t earlier, if only to have seen what probably everyone clearheaded does, that more is made of these conceptual categories, or schools, than there is. Somehow, being human, definitions useful for distinguishing like things get turned, invariably, into playground war. I suppose because it’s easier to classify some poem as being of one school or another than to actually read the thing on its own terms.

So anyway, I’m starting to see what the distinction really is, that is what is meant when people talk about sound, that any new poetry is about sound. Not that the old poetry wasn’t (load every rift with ore and all that) but if you’re willing to forego meaning as well as established patterns of meaning (even if, by poetic license, one always pushed and strained the expected concordance between syntax and linearity, say, 'back then'), the number of words available to fit the sonic ‘needs’ of that moment-space are greatly increased just as, self-freed from the requirements of rhyme, one (Milton (i.e.) has more word choices at the end of his lines.

So the sonic argument becomes compressed, and this creates a whole new dynamic. It is true, again, that the sonic argument has always been an essential component of poems, but as with any system, even small proportional changes make a huge difference. (Been to the beach lately, for example? a few feet from the tideline is not much different, compositionally speaking, from a few feet in—but the practical difference is huge—or for another example, one of taste, add a pinch salt to your applesauce instead of leaving it unsalted. The practical difference of such is large.) So the sonic argument becomes momently intensified, its terms primary. Freed from the strictures of logic-sense, is another step towards primacy, away from the larger structure of ‘tradition-meaning.’ A sonnet seen thusly, does not give force and release through its compression and regulation, anymore, it instead functions to remove its words from reality. It becomes, to certain poets’ hands, unnatural.

So this focus in sound is a technique/benefit of a program/mentality which distrusts easy meaning. And I suppose this is why from modernism on (quantum mechanics and all that—I’ll save that for another post) this tendency is pronounced and defined. Why its arrival and independence can be considered a 'new' poetry.

Sidenote: some of the energy I’m trying to get at (extractive industry, me) can also be explained with this comparison: that just as the printing press freed words from their oral ‘space,’ so in its long-livedness a new freedom has developed, a liberation of words sounds from their meanings.

Writing about the new (and this new even has been around for so long now—or is it just that I aging have?—so I/we have some perspective) gets interlocutative so quickly, it’s like trying to feel your skin from the inside to see what you look like from the outside. I think, by the feel of them, that the figurings-out I find interesting here have been arrived at many times and more eloquently by many—probably a stopping-off point for any poet. I do my best. But even if I’ve read similar words before, the feeling of understanding in this way, in potential for my own poetry is new, so I write it while it is available fresh, so.

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