Notes towards "Practice of Poetry" commentary
Notes towards a poetry commentary…
working towards an aesthetic that revels in the beauty of language – both in sound and meaning – rather than priveleging one over the other. An aesthetic similar to that expressed by WCW: “a lightness and a light full of / words upon a paper sky, each a meaning / and all a meaning jointly.” NOT, therefore, to callously abandon meaning like the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets, nor to pretend to write “plainly” or in any sort of common language like for instance (imho) Larkin does.
There is a basic aesthetic at work when we appreciate music. Alan Watts points out that music and dance are the two truly pointless art forms. The aim of the dance is not to get somewhere, but to enjoy and revel in movement; similarly with music, musical forms and patterns are appreciated for their own beauty, not because they stand for anything. This is what we mean when we approve of a poem as being musical. We usually think that musicality can be applied only to the sound of the poem, but why not the meaning too?
I'm unsure what musical meaning would entail. Something indeterminate, that's for sure. Combining different textures into a pleasing whole. The orchestration of different – even contradictory – meanings. Those poems that are saturated in beautiful ambiguity tend to have a similar effect on me to great jazz music – an trancelike absorption in the work (involoving, with poetry, close rereading), a sense of freedom and openness. So I advocate blending meanings as harmonies are blent in music.
To blend meaning is not to devalue meaning itself, to abandon Truth as an possible goal of poetry. On the one hand, we have what comonly passes for political poetry: a dull drone. On the other hand, we have postmodern or poststructural abandonments of meaning: discordant honking. But I like harmony :))
Unversal voice vs dialects
There is an opposition between Yeatsian universality: “I hated and still hate with an every drowing hatred the literature of the point of view. I wanted…to get back to Homer…I wanted to cry and all men cried, to laugh as all men laughed…
and the idea of a poetry of dialect (which poet in Strong Words talks about this?)
The debate over the value of confessional / personal poety is related but not the same. We are thinking more about the use of language here, and the problems of poetry as communication.
We think in dialects – words and categories that we have learnt from our cultures and social circles. But we are not absolutely conditioned by culture – every good poet can project some of their unique pattern through their modification of their received dialect. This is how and why dialects multiply. In such a fiercely individualistic world as our own, one could argue that this process is destablising language and inhibiting any chance of communication between individuals.
But no: the creation of a unique personal dialect (which writer was it who coined this idea?) is necessary to writing poetry. To write in this dialect is to share a sense of yourself, even if your poetry is not at all confessional. It is also to share your culture, to make it inhabitable by others. [Example of Linton Kwesi Johnson.]
Poetry written in a particular regional/cultural dialect – e.g. LKJ, Tom Leonard – is not challenging because you can't understand it, but because you can :D
I am not lionising the use of particular dialects like in these examples. This is only one of many ways in which unique dialect can be expressed. Much good poetry that appears to be standard English (or the Queen's english, or middle english…) in fact expresses dialect through idiomatic turns of phrase, use of sound or other poetic technique, or the use of colloquailisms and various registers of language.
This flexible expression of culture and self is what I really admire in language, and constitues the aesthetic beauty of langage.
Other Topics to cover:
My “cultural background”
Why Yeats May Have Been Right
Theories of Inspiration
Language as organic entity or process…