Thursday, May 9, 2013

this sounds good to me

The human race has been composing, reciting and hearing poetry from the very start. The conclusion must be that it is of some use to us. It is useful in making sense of a world that is part memory, part imagination. It does so by giving that world a shape in language. It makes us realise things we didn’t know we knew. It utterly changed my life at 17 when I started reading and writing it. I thought the shapes it made were magical in that they held things together by transforming them. It humanised the world for me. It was a form of power, like magic.

The poet is personal: the language is impersonal. Language is not a stable or static entity – it moves and crumbles and grows at the same time. The poet’s art lies in listening intently to the micro-movements of language while never forgetting the sense of the world as the pre-language – as instinct, apprehension, desire – that drove him or her to the threshold of language in the first place. Of course there are subjects and themes but that’s about as far as intention can go. As I see it is not a matter of wanting to say something, then finding the words to say it. You discover what you and the language have to say by entering the process of saying. The ethical power of poetry lies in its precise tension with language not in any broadly stated programme of doing good. The programme is advertisement. Technique, suggested Pound, is the test of sincerity. I think he was on to something.

The reader is as personal as the writer. Like the poet, the reader looks to reinvent himself / herself within a language shape that feels like the world. That shape is as impersonal to the reader as it is to the writer. Neither of them owns it. Reader and writer enter it at different angles, from different locations, with different baggage. But they share it. The solitary voice speaking to the solitary imagination is, paradoxically, the deepest shared experience. That sharing is the useful thing, the art that does some good: the ‘message’ is to be discovered not sent.

~ poet George Szirtes

George Szirtes interview

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