Monday, February 11, 2013

It perplexes me...

...that so few people who write poems are also interested in thinking and writing about poetics. When I use the word "poetics," I'm not talking about prosody and boring, mechanical analysis. I'm talking about the aesthetic and spiritual aspects of poem-making.

For me, the art of poetry is a fascinating thing.

What is going on behind the scene, so to speak, to bring a wonderful poem to presence? What are the latent, formal energies in language and consciousness that, on rare occasions, emerge as the compressed lines of a resonant poem? How is it that aesthetic and spiritual space is opened by the interplay of cadence and image? Where did this poem come from, and why is it special?

A poet not interested in poetics is like a duck that is not like a duck.

I like some things that Seamus Heaney wrote about poetics. He took poetry seriously enough to be interested in poetics. He contemplated the mysterious processes of poem-writing that lead from the subconscious to the disciplined and resonant utterance:

Technique, as I would define it, involves not only a poet's way with words, his management of metre, rhythm and verbal texture; it involves also a definition of his stance towards life, a definition of his own reality. It involves the discovery of ways to go out of his normal cognitive bounds and raid the inarticulate: a dynamic alertness that mediates between the origins of feeling in memory and experience and the formal ploys that express these in a work of art.
Technique entails the watermarking of your essential patterns of perception, voice and thought into the touch and texture of your lines; it is that whole creative effort of the mind's and body's resources to bring the meaning of experience within the jurisdiction of form.
                                                   -- from Heaney's essay "Feeling into Words"

Technique as the reconnaissance, recovery, and formal handling of a personal Weltanschauung. And might I even suggest: the expression, indirectly, of a self-mythologizing ethos? After all, isn't it a kind of godly endeavor to move into and inhabit regions of the aesthetic, to become a living heresy against the mundane?

Further, I continue to be self-persuaded that imagination plays a significant role in the process of a masterly poetics. How imagination works with, bonds with memory and perception to form an arcing trace onto the written page. I suspect not enough has been thought about and said about imagination. Certainly not enough of it goes into the poem-making of very many poets.

But it really won't do, I guess, to approach poetics from a prescriptivist angle: as if pondering this stuff would or should lead to the writing of better poems. Rather, I just think it's worth probing the art of poetics for the sheer delight in confronting and talking about the phenomenon of language-as-art.

If a work of art is compelling, shouldn't it inspire the contemplation and exploration of the aesthetic resources from which it sprang? Not trivial or mechanical resources, but what resides in dimensions of being just this side of the inarticulate.

To me, thinking and writing about poetics is not only a form of art appreciation. It's also an intensely spiritual activity.

Blüten in der Nacht  (Blossoms in the Night-- Paul Klee, 1930

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