Thursday, September 21, 2006

TRUTH! Etc. in Poetry

Truth in poetry. I’m not thinking of “TRUTH” as in “The! One! Way! Things! Are!” of the social realm, or the kind of truth that is the sincere retelling of a bit of the author’s life (did the poet REALLY do that?) . . . I’m thinking of truth as a stable part of the world enacted by the poem.

When one runs up the street shouting, “the president has been shot,” one is most likely taken literally. If one writes a poem in which one states, “the president has been shot,” one might be doing any number of things. Perhaps “Truth” is not a good word for this. So I'll try to complicate it a bit by saying “truth value.” Perhaps that still doesn’t quite get to what I mean.

I've read a few things recently. One, by C. Dale Young, about the difficulty of the role of persona on blogs, and another, on Collin Kelly's blog, about his feeling that there is no such thing as "bad" poetry. And then, Jonathan Mayhew was thinking about the inherent problem of taste yesterday.

This has me thinking this morning about the difficulties we have in talking about what art is for, and how we can, or can't, appreciate it.

I think of a poem as a wholeness (even a fragmented poem is a wholeness) because it is itself. My question is how (and then why) do the parts contribute to this wholeness . . . the singularity that is this discreet act of language. No matter what the center of the poem holds – even a de-centered poem – the parts must enact it. And if there is an "it" to enact, then it must, if it is successful, be a wholeness. Even if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice, as the band, Rush, sings, way back when.

There must be some way, in the economy of the poem, to gauge if the poem has been successful or not in its forward movement?

Here are a couple thoughts I'm trying to help myself with this morning:

What does the poem allow us to say, about it, about the world? The world that is the poem . . . the alternate world-creating power of language enacting its space before us. And then the world that is NOT the poem . . . our lived lives in this daily, pedestrian world.

What does this poem allow us to bring back from the poem-world to the daily world? That is, I think, what people talk about when they say one is—or that one might be—changed by art. When the art spills over into the life, the life is shifted a bit. Perhaps not permanently, and perhaps only slightly, and certainly not every time, but changed nonetheless. Even if it quickly reverts.

And what, then, does the poem NOT allow us to say, to bring back to the world?

Remembering that a poem is not a math test, and that one need not show all of one’s work, it is important to note that there is no answer that comes out of a poem. If a poem has an answer, it’s closed to possibility, and then might be reportage, or reflection, or a sincere reenacted truth, but it is no longer a dwelling in possibility, which is the strongest move poetry has, in my estimation.

And in speaking about these things, we must come up against the twin devils of TASTE and VALUE.

Can we talk about the movements of a poem, its potentials and reductions, without being accused of TASTE (you just don’t like it -- !)? Can we speak of the poem’s movement with internal coherence, with its enacted TRUTH, without being accused of VALUE (don’t put your truth on me, man -- !)? Probably not, but it’s good to try, I think. And I suppose we all should fail, as, I suppose all poems must fail . . . or else there would be the end of poetry. Maybe.

All this sounds like STANDARDS of GOOD POEMS, which makes me feel like a reactionary. I don't like that.

Questions for further heated arguments with myself:

How is the form of the poem working with/against the content?

Why do you think the poet broke the poem’s lines where they are broken?

What role does sound (does rhythm) play in this poem?

What does the world look like that is being enacted by this poem? (Image)

To what end are the gleaming machines making?


At 9/22/2006 7:48 AM, Blogger Collin said...

An excellent post to further this discusson. I would argue that whether a poem is successful or not in its forward movement is the same as good, bad, personal taste, or whether it moved you or not. When I'm critiquing poetry for others, I do look for an economy of words, forward movement, being taken on some kind of mini-journey. Somehow we must find new language to accurately gage poetry. These kinds of discussions are how that happens.


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