Saturday, January 08, 2011

What Is Clarity Anyway? (Anyway, Clarity Is What?)

Clarity as Detail 

Six Types of Clarity?

If any single word could be called THE hot-button, marching orders word of our period, it would have to be “clarity.”  It’s placed on the backs of books as shorthand for “The poetry in this volume is safe, and NOT elliptical, skittery, post-avant, Language writing, Flarf, Conceptual, and/or etcetera.”  So it is with a great deal of wariness that I approached D.H. Tracy's essay, “Six Types of Clarity: Looking beyond New Criticism’s ambiguities,” in the most recent issue of Poetry Magazine:


What I found, in a way, might be the sort of response to, or aesthetic, historical grounding for, that Ron Silliman has long called for in what he terms the School of Quietude.  And Tracy starts out with a nod to the fact that clarity is going to be difficult (I would say impossible) to pin down:

“. . . clarity seems doomed to be a comparatively wishy-washy concept.  Literature has played a trick on us: clarity is murky, and ambiguity is clear.  But clarity’s virtues are so taken for granted that the question of how those virtues might be demonstrable seems like it ought to be within reach.  Writing regularly earns praise for admitting relatively little latitude of response—though, in poetry’s case, normally not for that quality alone, which a technical service manual could possess.  Writing regularly earns praise for ‘getting out of the way’ and affording a relatively unmediated view of its subject. Considerations of clarity tend to use freighted but inbred sets of words, like ‘rightness,’ ‘inevitability,’ and ‘aptness.’  And accounts of experiencing clarity often have a quasi-mystical turn, describing a sense of simultaneous discernment and ease, an unstrained awareness that, though expanded, does not leave behind the facts of the case.”

One can quickly see the difficulties of the project.  It’s going to be pretty close to impossible, after everything we know about the tenuousness of all language to maintain anything approaching a singular meaning in the face of, at the very least, the difficulty of readers.  Connotation?  Denotation?  Difference(s)? 


Clarity as the Ambiguous Stacking of Pebbles 


So here are the six, in Tracy’s words [I’ve deleted his examples, follow the above link to read the essay in its entirety]:

1. [T]he clarity of inflected metaphor, or metaphor that provides a directive on its own interpretation. Taken one step further than strictly necessary, such a figure includes not just a tenor and a vehicle, but a suggested manner of comparing the two. This manner-of-comparing (or directive, or inflection) tends to restrict the play, in all senses, of metaphor, and so acts to narrow the range of possible interpretations.

2. The second type of clarity follows from the poet’s self-consciousness, as it appears in expressions of frustration with the poem’s procedure or form. Self-consciousness reduces interpretive latitude in the sense of diverting the reader from the performative, rhetorical aspect of the poem to a simplifying awareness of voice, a voice often found to be struggling with confusion or irritated at a convention it cannot freshen by force of ingenuity. Self-consciousness, as a gesture, has a way of shaking the poem out of a rut, and enlisting the reader against the worst instincts of the writer. Tony Hoagland in an essay remarks on self-consciousness in this regard; one of his examples:

                                                     the roses
Had the look of flowers that are looked at.
           —From “Burnt Norton,” by T.S. Eliot

We are simultaneously delivered, in this case, from cliche and the strain of avoiding it.

3. The third type, emergent clarity, also depends on a simplifying awareness of voice. It occurs when a poem gradually works its way up to an intimacy that recasts the foregoing as a plausible act of communication or address, as opposed to an abstract act of literature.

4. The fourth type is the clarity of indigenous conceit. By “indigenous” here I mean plausibly native to the writer’s experience, and not fashioned out of an imaginative recombination of literature or pickings from various bodies of knowledge. …

5. The fifth type is a sort of generalized onomatopoeia, in which punctuation, sound, and syntax mime some action over time. The action may be stated or implied, but is in either case transparent. This type has ancestry in children’s literature and nonsense. Here is Beatrix Potter, describing the action of a rolling pin on a kitten pudding:

roly-poly, roly; roly, poly, roly

This is hardly language at all, and perhaps for that reason there is no latitude in its interpretation.

6. The last type of clarity arises when one of the poem’s formal devices, commonly meter, synchronizes with a naturally occurring feature of the language, potentially something as simple as a conversational inflection, an interjection, or a naturalistic trope like anacoluthon (“Maybe I should—I don’t know what to do”). If you accept the analogy of language to landscape and form to architecture, this type of clarity is a felicitous harmony between a feature of the topography and a feature of the design. Alternatively, if form is an abstract imposition on a pile of language, then this type occurs when the language seems to have fulfilled its formal requirements before the pattern arrives.


Clarity as Being Really Close to Your Left Eye


Tracy has, at least for me, made the idea of clarity fairly ambiguous by the end.  It’s the inverse of what he reported about Empson’s essay on ambiguity back there in the cobwebs.  From this all rises the one major idea of clarity: that it reduces ambiguity.  In the clearest text, the clearest poem then, the level of ambiguity would be as near zero as possible.  But how possible is the near zero?  In the near zero economy, interpretation would be over fairly quickly, I would imagine.  Readings would be agreed upon.  that they are not, even in (especially in, even) poetry that is often cited as clear.  Yes, but clear in what way?  That is, indeed, the rub. 

Even with that huge boulder of salt, I’m glad that this essay is out there.  Now we need the follow-up essay, the one that talks about clarity in the way that it’s meant in contemporary poetry: The sentences will be grammatically correct, and that, more importantly, they will proceed as logically and experientially contingent, on a topic that is enacted in a pseudo-autobiographical manner where the speaker is at the center of the poem, unifying its parts in a socially acceptable situation (usually domestic) leading to a light epiphany.  (And clarity, of course, is a separate concept from meaningfulness, as there’s no necessary connection between the two.)  Or something like that. 

Here’s a good example of contemporary clarity, where there’s the surface appearance of clarity (father / stranger / war / childhood terror / innocence vs experience / mortality / epiphany) leading to an elided, but still present, ambiguity (as opposed to poetry that embraces its movements around ambiguity, which, though, in the end both stances contain ambiguity & clarity, the overt contract with the reader is different [Ashbery, of course, is my go-to example for this other stance toward clarity]):


Billy Collins
My First Memory


is the enormous face of a man peering
down into my carriage,
a fedora tilted back on his head,
and smoke billowing from a cigar in his mouth. 

It was on the sidewalk
in front of our apartment building,
probably on a weekend
because my father was the one pushing the carriage. 

I don’t recall the season. 
It might have been spring,
but I was bundled up
the way babies were in a hand-knitted cap and sweater. 

For all I know,
I could be mixing this up with a photograph
of my father standing by my carriage
in a topcoat, one hand resting on the bar,

but the memory is the same—
I was on my back as usual,
the man’s large head
was obscuring my customary view of clouds and sky,

and my father was nowhere in sight. 
A war was raging in Europe and on the seas,
but all I knew was
the looming, smoking face of the man who was making me cry. 

That was long ago, of course,
and now there is no longer anything to fear.
The man with the cigar must be long dead
and so is my father, and my mother as well,

and today I have time to lie
on my back on the autumn grass,
nothing below me but the spinning earth,
nothing between me and the open dome of sky. 

41 Comments:

At 1/10/2011 6:09 AM, Blogger מבול said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 1/10/2011 8:58 AM, Anonymous david james miller said...

"Repeatedly I come upon the ahistorical thought, particularly as it characterizes an idea of private life--an individual's thinking, or wishing to think, of him- or herself not only as unique but as uniquely experiencing. This pertains to thinking as well as to identity: one wants not just oneself but also one's response to life to be unprecedented. What one feels, what one experiences, then, would have more density and weight of life, more vivid clarity, than what others feel or experience. My love, my suffering, my insight, etc., would become incontrovertible--the ultimate assertion.

But it could insist only on the present."

--Lyn Hejinian, The Language of Inquiry

 
At 1/10/2011 6:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Must you quote Collins?

And where is Oppen in this? Surely he is one of 20th-century poetry's chief disciples of "clarity" (cf. "Route"), in spite of his lapidary complexity?

--Eli

 
At 1/11/2011 4:24 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

The thing about Oppen is, well, first, he's not contemporary. And second, Collins is a very good example of someone who is very popular and "clear."

This version of clarity that I'm seeing is often talked about as some sort of language-transparency that leads to everyone "understanding" the poem, or some such.

The thing about Collins that I notice most often though, is that the poem doesn't really "lead" the read anywhere, but instead give the impression that it's leading the reader somewhere. The poem here is, I think, a great example of just how open his poems usually are, outside the trappings of focused meaning.

In other words, his poems really doesn't lead to a point, but they give the impression that they've reached a point.

That's something people ignore when talking about "clarity" these days. ("These days"!) It's a highly gestural and ambiguous clarity rooted in a LOT of cultural assumptions.

 
At 1/11/2011 4:26 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

David,

Yes, that's the argument version! I was trying to stay away, myself, from making it an argument. I'm wondering more right now about how it operates.

(Which, yes, IS part of her critique . . .)

 
At 1/11/2011 10:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let us go then, you and I...

John, like yr idea of Collins clearly 'leading' us...but to nowhere...

But doesn't ALL temporal art 'lead' us somewhere, by its very nature?

And since ALL art is illusion, aren't we always led 'nowhere?'

Beyond that question, I think Collins does 'lead us somewhere' in as much as he's not ambiguous.

Thomas Brady

 
At 1/11/2011 10:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, not baiting you in re Oppen (well, maybe a little bit in re Collins)--but Oppen's definition(s) of "clarity," esp. in "Route," are pretty fundamental, I think, for a lot of what follows in contemporary American poetry. It's a bracing, challenging definition--or congeries of implicit definitions. And of course as my students point out, the poem itself is, on the surface, far from "clear," even when the constituent gestures seem transparent enough.

One of the many "cultural assumptions" my students inhabit is that poetic language is somehow hiding something--is either deeply invested in hiding something, or is essentially tasked with hiding something. Language is a scrim the poet pulls over experience, rather than experience itself.

People at readings sometime ask me what did I mean by...whatever phrase has stuck in their mind, say "Jackdaw. Apiculture. Avail--" And I say, "I meant 'Jackdaw. Apiculture. Avail--'." This leaves them even more confused, at least initially: I think because it short circuits this idea, that difficult language is somehow a stand-in or substitute or disguise for something less complex.

--Eli

 
At 1/11/2011 1:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But what did you mean by "jackdaw?" The students' "cultural assumptions" are correct. They should suspect something is below the surface. Why shouldn't they? The paradox, which John and D.H. Tracy are puzzling over, is that if there IS nothing hidden, if it's all surface, we then actually have MORE ambiguity than if there IS something (clearly) hidden. Because if all you're doing is saying "jackdaw" for the hell of it, you're not a real poet. Amibiguity and clarity depend on expectations.

 
At 1/11/2011 2:12 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Clarity is such an ambiguous concept. That's really the only point I think I've come to in my thinking.

Billy Collins's poetry seems much less clear and much more ambiguous the more I try to really trace this "clarity."

And, conversely, Ashbery's poetry, the more I think of "clarity" seems less ambiguous than many claim.

That's not a huge thesis, I know. It's all in one's stance toward the jackdaws, I suppose.

"Corvus monedula," one might say, and someone could say in response, "what does that mean?" As a "clarify your terms" move . . . or one could say, "Jackdaws, OK, but I don't understand why you're saying 'jackdaws' at this moment." It's all context: situational and due to various uncertain parameters.

Poets DO work by substitution, that's just metonymy. And that can be hard to follow, but equally so, metaphor can be difficult to follow, as one can not know where the association ends between the compared terms. And that's just the start. Right?

 
At 1/11/2011 2:19 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Just to add, one can say that Collins's strange man with the cigar is his fear of the father (sometimes a cigar isn't just a cigar, right?) intruding in his oceanic relationship with the mother (sky?), blah de blah . . . killing the father(s) off in the poem brings him back to a perfect infantile state with the earth and sky (bliss!). But I doubt he'd be consciously up to that . . .

Or one can say many other things about it, due to what I see as its rather overt ambiguity in the last couple stanzas. It's not a surface ambiguity (but it rarely is in Ashbery either), it's a resolution ambiguity: what do all these parts equal.

What do they need to equal? Is the poem "about" something or is the poem something? Is there a reason for the jackdaws or are there jackdaws because that's what's there?

This, as I see it, is the central difficulty with "clarity."

 
At 1/11/2011 4:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There better be a reason for those jackdaws...or I want my money back.

Things 'will just be there' in life, but in a poem?

This doesn't mean every line has to be pregnant with meaning, just that the intent (whatever it is) of the whole should be clear. And then we can enjoy the delightful minor flourishes. We're really in a world we like.

Thomas Brady (that was my previous comment, too, sorry.)

 
At 1/11/2011 6:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You would prefer, perhaps, that everything be pregnant with jackdaws? Hmmmm. (shivers)

When I say "jackdaw," I mean "jackdaw." It's a bird, you know.

And yes, you may have your money back. (But not your jackdaw--that, I am keeping. It will be happier here.)

--Eli

 
At 1/12/2011 6:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eli keeps his "jackdaw" and I keep my money.

Yea, that's kind of the way po-biz works these days...

Did I leave out the part where Eli bought his "jackdaw" with an MFA?

But education is good, you know, even if it just babysits jack...daws.

T Brady

 
At 1/12/2011 8:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As you suggested, this subject is about language as a whole, which presents a bigger can of worms than just poetry. Poetry just offers an especially complicated case, because we look to understand on more than one level. We're not likely to complain that a real estate contract is clear on the literal level, but the metaphor is ambiguous …

It's the disparity in clarity between a poem's different levels of interpretation that complicates things. Take everyone's favorite poem about so much depending on a wheelbarrow, rainwater, and chickens. The language couldn't be more clear. But then there's the deliberate ambiguity of the "so much"; what, exactly, depends on this stuff? And then there's the broader question of what else is this all about. So is the poem clear? Yes, and no, and hell no.

The Collins poem might lead us to yes, and sort of, and who cares. But that's another matter.

Here's a philosophically unsound idea for measuring clarity: get a bunch of reasonably literate readers, preferably ones who share some cultural background with the poet. Ask them what the poem's about on different levels.

Plenty of poems might lead 10 of these readers to 10 different answers, even when talking about the most superficial levels of interpretation. You could say that such poems demonstrate qualities distinctly different from clarity.

PaulR

 
At 1/12/2011 11:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Did I leave out the part where Eli bought his "jackdaw" with an MFA?"

Sorry. I bought my jackdaw with my childhood.

Yes, it was sad, a little, to trade my childhood for memories of my childhood. But there were compensations. And, one can never have too many jackdaws.

I''m so glad we're having this conversation,
Eli

 
At 1/12/2011 11:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Plenty of poems might lead 10 of these readers to 10 different answers, even when talking about the most superficial levels of interpretation. You could say that such poems demonstrate qualities distinctly different from clarity."

You could also say this about a word. One word (jackdaw, for instance) would get 10 different interpretations from 10 people of the same background. This is the default response, and so the challenge for the poet is to narrow possible interpretations, not increase them.

So many poets (bad ones) pride themselves on their poems' ambiguity, but ambiguity is easy; clarity is the glory.

Now, one can assemble a few words to produce something clear and banal----but this does not change the fact that banal clarity and default ambiguity (Red Wheel Barrow manages to do both at once) are to be avoided...

Tom Brady

 
At 1/12/2011 12:02 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Tom,

You were trying to bait Eli with that MFA comment. I'm glad he didn't take it.

"Narrow possible interpretations" is a perfectly understandable point of view, but it appears nowhere in the rule book. Others talk about the need for "mystery" in poetry. And they aren't necessarilly disagreeing with you.

Really, what we all mean when talking about poetry is that the poem must be good. We just have different criteria.

WCW narrowed "everything" to "so much," for instance. I think if he would have narrowed it to the story people tell of its composition, it would have lost so much.

 
At 1/12/2011 12:30 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Has no one else seen FDR in Collins’ poem, or its implications?

Still (clear?) waters run deep.

 
At 1/12/2011 12:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"You could also say this about a word. One word (jackdaw, for instance) would get 10 different interpretations from 10 people of the same background. "

How is that? My dictionary has a single definition. It's a kind of bird. A better dictionary might also have a picture.

If you're talking about the connotations rather than definitions, sure ... but then we're talking about a different level of interpretation, where more ambiguity necessarily intrudes.

Unless we're talking about Tracy's "inflected metaphor," style of clarity ... "the world pooped on my head, like a jackdaw, but bigger."

paul r

 
At 1/12/2011 12:41 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Or maybe "still waters just kind of sit there and we see reflected in them ourselves and what we're wearing."

 
At 1/12/2011 3:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Paul, if I choose to call a word a poem, it's more than just its dictionary meaning. There's an ocean of ambiguity in a grain of sand.

John, you see what I'm saying so I'll leave it at that.

Gary...FDR?

I'd say Churchill.

Brady

 
At 1/12/2011 4:03 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

It would be nice to hear Mr. Collins' opinion on this.

Collins was born in 1945. A baby in a carriage.

FDR died in 1945. A fedora and a cigar.

Was he exposed to this image? Who was the Daddy?

 
At 1/12/2011 7:51 PM, Blogger David Grove said...

I often write "jackdaw" and mean nothing more than "jackdaw"; however, I'm not writing "jackdaw" for the hell of it. I choose "jackdaw" because I'm fond of it, because it "makes me feel something I don't understand." (I enclosed those words in forceps because Armantrout said them somewhere, I think.) The feeling is entwined with the flat "a," the hard consonants, and the vague associations the word conjures up--undertaker, Kafka, marauding raptor. So there's an emotional subtext, but "jackdaw" isn't a stand-in for the emotion. If "jackdaw" makes me feel, I don't know, an ominous sense of impending death, I don't write "jackdaw" in order to say "ominous sense of impending death" in code.

This conversation reminds me of Tom Clark's blog. After Tom posted Stevens's "Earthy Anecdote," some people asked him if Stevens knew that there's an actual animal called a fire cat. Tom said he likes to think that Stevens knew what he was talking about, that Stevens wasn't just writing phantasmagoric gibberish, so yes, Stevens knew there's an actual animal called a fire cat. But Stevens could have just made up "firecat" and known what he was talking about. Or he could have known there's an actual fire cat without knowing what he was talking about.

"My fingers are as succulent as broomstraws." I know what fingers and broomstraws are, but I don't know what I'm talking about. Cannabalism?

 
At 1/13/2011 7:53 AM, Anonymous david james miller said...

in looking at dh tracy's essay, i am reminded of his admiration for richard wilbur. so i'll quote something wilbur wrote (& which was published in the same year as olson's projective verse).

"Some writers think of art as a window, and some think of it as a door. If art is a window, then the poem is something intermediate in character, limited, synecdochic, a partial vision of a part of the world. It is the means of a dynamic relation between the eye within and the world without. If art is conceived to be a door, then that dynamic relation is destroyed. The artist no longer perceives a wall between him and the world; the world becomes an extension of himself, and is deprived of its reality. The poet’s words cease to be a means of liaison with the world; they take the place of the world. This is bad aesthetics—and incidentally, bad morals."

here, we see wilbur's window standing in for tracy's 'clarity,' which is fairly important to this conversation--one that ultimately seems to be about fundamentally different approaches to the use of language within a poem.

one limits itself to the 'transparent' use of language in poetry, pointing toward a specified meaning of some kind (while also making certain assumptions about what a poem must be), while declaring that any other approach is without morals (in wilbur's terminology). isn't this the sort of thing we've been hearing for too long? i think so at least.

the other approaches seem to allow for still other uses of language, which actually opens up the field of the poem nicely. for wilbur, this poem is a door. for tracy, it lacks 'clarity.'

what then can this poem be? it certainly doesn't have to be about something; the poem can instead be something in itself, as john pointed out. or, it can be several things. thirteen different blackbirds. or in this case, jackdaws.

click on my name for a picture of just one.

 
At 1/13/2011 8:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I often write "jackdaw" and mean nothing more than "jackdaw"; however, I'm not writing "jackdaw" for the hell of it. I choose "jackdaw" because I'm fond of it, because it "makes me feel something I don't understand."

David,

The solipcism expressed here is the very reason why the public has turned away from poetry. This is it, right here. All the more horrible is that this solipcism is guarded by prickly, so-called 'learning.'

This is the height of arrogance: "*I* mean nothing more than "jackdaw"...*I* choose "jackdaw" because *I'm* fond of it...

Doesn't ANYBODY see a tiny problem here?

Call me an insensitive bully if you like, but my so-called 'bullying' is a mere drop compared to the ocean of public apathy.

Quoth the jackdaw: whatever, sure. (I can just see Poe's Philosophy of Composition in this alternative universe: Since I'm particularly fond of Ravens, I felt I had to write the word, "Raven.")

Tom Brady

 
At 1/13/2011 2:53 PM, Blogger David Grove said...

I don't feel bullied by you, Tom; I can take a kick in the groin.

I won't deny the charge of solipsism and arrogance, but don't all writers write about what they're fond of? Kerouac, for example, was fond of jazz, so he wrote about it a lot. Is that arrogant? Well...in that example jazz is subject matter, not a word. But haven't poets always--even before the public turned away from poetry--chosen words for the sake of their sounds and the emotions evoked by their sounds? Didn't Poe dote on the melancholy vowels and consonants of words like "Lenore" and "Nevermore"? A poet may espouse an opinion he doesn't really agree with or feign an emotion he doesn't really feel for the sake of a lugubrious long vowel, a liquid consonant, a spondaic double-barreled adjective. Seems to me poets have been like this for a long time. I don't think the public has turned away from poetry because of the solipsism and arrogance you think I exemplify. That's like saying the public has turned away from classical music because modern composers have alienated it with atonality. If that were true, wouldn't the public still be buying new Mozart recordings and Verdi tickets? But the audience for tonal classical music is shrinking too--and growing richer and hoarier headed. And when you go to Starbucks, do you see people reading Philip Larkin? No. They're watching youtube. The public has turned away from all poetry, even the "clear" kind.

I don't subscribe to Poe's theory of composition; I don't consciously decide what emotion I'm going to produce in the reader--e.g., mournfulness--and then choose "jackdaw" as a stand-in for mournfulness. I work in a very intuitive way, so maybe my poems aren't "clear." But poets have lost their audience. They're not going to get it back by trying to be clear. The audience for poetic prose like Nabokov and Updike is going to dry up and blow away too.

 
At 1/13/2011 3:49 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

And, who knows, there could be a blow back of popularity with some form of poetry none of us care for, and then ha-ha on us all. Tomorrow has always been funny that way.

 
At 1/13/2011 5:43 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Pursuant to my comments, above, regarding the interpretation of Billy Collins' poem:

did I mention L14, L22 and L26?

 
At 1/13/2011 7:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David,

I have nothing against good jazz reviewing, but I agree with you; that's off-topic. Well, Poe did the work to make 'The Raven' have an impact; he wasn't tied to a particular 'like' in a momentary sort of way---I'm not sure why I have to explain this. Being clear is just a first step; obviously the poet has to do more than that. Mozart is extremely popular; classical music sells very well. True, we all agree that poetry has a problem. We have to get beyond our solipcism just as a first step. Damn! I am such a bully! I am such a prick! I can't help it! Forgive me...

Thomas Brady

 
At 1/13/2011 7:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gary,

Collins was born in '41.

Churchill was better known for cigar-smoking...but I think Collins is just talking about his dad...

Brady

 
At 1/14/2011 6:49 AM, Blogger David Grove said...

We're all pricks, aren't we, Tom? I'm a prick too. About Poe: no, you needn't explain; I get it. About classical music: a recent NYT article ("Classical Music Imperiled: Can You Hear the Shrug?"), stats on the scarcity of new recordings of classical music, and a recent NEA study, among other things, have given me the impression that classical music is in a moribund state. (The study showed that the audience for classical music is shrinking and aging, also that the number of concert-attenders has dropped by a third since the 80s.) About poetry and poetic prose: the NEA also says the number of poetry-readers has shrunk dramamtically since the early 90s. But do such official death knells tell us anything we didn't know? Every day I'm bombarded by corroborations of my sense that literacy is declining precipitously--plummeting towards a splatter that nothing can avert, least of all an anti-modernist tendency towards clarity. My attempts at poetry are a quixotic defense of an embattled and venerable art.

John, you're not a prick. You're nice.

Don't any women come to this blog?

 
At 1/14/2011 8:01 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

David,

Two things that might or might not pertain.

1) I recently heard that only something like 16% of the music recorded before 1960 is commercially available. I know that's a different subject than Classical Music and its popularity, but it does lend a bit of perspective to the idea of what time does to art.

2) I've had some emails from female friends asking this question a slightly different way: Why don't females comment on this blog (much). I'm not in a position to hazard an answer to that. I tend to find arguments about "male" and "female" spaces cringeworthy and reductive. So I just don't know, except to say that there are many anonymous comments that are not tagged specifically male or female, so who knows.

 
At 1/14/2011 8:43 AM, Blogger David Grove said...

#1 is sad, John. I trawl thrift shops and flea markets for cheap LPs, and even in those places you can't find much pre-'60 stuff. Recently, at the Salvation Army, I found a worn-out Judy Garland album from the 50s. It was like finding a female commenter at your blog.

 
At 1/14/2011 11:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Would it be helpful if people posted in drag?

—Betty

 
At 1/14/2011 5:04 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

"Gary,

Collins was born in '41.

Brady"


Well, if you're telling me that Mr. Collins is now 70 years old, then I stand even more fervently behind my interpretation of his poem 'My First Memory'

 
At 1/15/2011 8:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How does the need to have "an interpretation" play against, or help, one's argument regarding this whole "clarity" thing?

- Chris

 
At 1/15/2011 12:43 PM, Blogger knott said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 1/16/2011 10:17 AM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

I find it regrettable that Mr. Knott deleted his fine poem.


Chris: my poetry focuses primarily on things of an ontological nature...it can never be clear until we die.

:-)

 
At 1/16/2011 10:21 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I didn't notice it was gone. Now I've noticed. I wonder why he decided to delete it.

 
At 1/16/2011 10:56 AM, Anonymous Betty said...

HOMEWORK

Dear boys and girls,
please don't forget to
underline my words
after you erase them.

--Bill Knott

 
At 1/16/2011 12:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

_____________
_______________
_____________
______________

- ____ _____


- Chris

 

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