Poetry that aims at the heart seeks to do so (usually) through an affective
catharsis; poetry that aims at the mind seeks to do so through a certain narrative-thematic skillfulness. If we are merely emotionally moved, or merely
intellectually stimulated, it is likely that what we are reading is decidedly minor
poetry. Minor poetry maintains a narrow focus on a goal that, however
elaborately formulated, stays either in the heart or in the mind. Given the
battles that have been waged on this blog and elsewhere, it is useful to note
that, between the two camps at war in American poetry (mainstream and
post-avant), there is an agreement on each side to reduce the other side to a
caricature of one of these two forms. Centrists perpetually accuse
post-avantists of being all head; post-avant poets perpetually accuse Centrists of being bleeding heart sentimentalists. However, these battles
are often waged at the level of content. Where form is concerned, people
tend to clam up, often because they lack knowledge of the formal mechanics of
poetry. I want to posit a new possibility that has not, to my knowledge,
heretofore been posited. What if someone were to put together post-avant, as a branch of avant-garde poetry (as it
exists now), and formalism? What if someone were to kick open the door and declare
the commensurability of form and intellect, of letting heart in the back door
via a level of formal elegance, employing the architectural techniques of the avant-garde?
I have felt the need to justify to myself why, after all this time and several books, I keep coming back to form, feeding on it so to speak, now
that I know what I know. If the arbitrary nature of signs or signifiers means that we would
be foolhardy to trust in their transparency, does that negate lapidary
or ornamental usages of language? I don't think so. It's not as if Saussure
was the first thinker to point out the deficiencies of linguistic signs. John
Locke said roughly the same thing 120 years before Saussure, and the major
Romantics were all fluent in Locke. Yet the inquiries of someone like Coleridge
never threw in doubt for him that the organic unity of harmonious
metrical language was worth creating. Maybe, to bring it straight back to 2009,
poets of my generation are deciding that experimental poets over the past fifty
years have thrown out too much. Or, maybe there is no reason, I can just
get tautological and say I like formal poetry because I like it and
leave it at that. Tautological logic (a contradiction in terms) can be
surprisingly useful, even therapeutic. Why? Because the universe is
unfathomable, and poetry is part of the universe, and often few of us know why
we write what we write. It's no accident that Jack Spicer thought aliens
were dictating to him. At the center of each of us is a solid core of
emptiness, which we act out of.
I mentioned Wordsworth's phrase harmonious metrical language.
"Harmony" is associated with music, as is, of course, metrical
language. Coleridge iterates, in his Biographia, that a man (or woman) without
music in his/her soul can never be a poet. I think my addiction to metrical
language or melopoeia (and it is, to an extent, an addiction, albeit a positive one) is in
large measure the product of an imagination weaned on music and the metrical
language of song lyrics. Metrical language, as manifested in song lyrics, is
the most popular kind of poetry in the world, and has been for half a century.
The nineteenth century saw the tremendous popular success of Byron and Tennyson.
There is no twentieth century analogue to Byron and Tennyson, because the lack
of metrical harmony in serious poetic language rendered it too difficult
for mass consumption. It is no accident that the single most famous Modernist
poem would probably be Eliot'sPrufrock, a metrical composition.
People want music that isn't merely Poundian/High Mod melopoeia; they want it to
be surface-level and discernible and, sometimes, I agree with them. Using melopoeia, in its most disciplined forms, is not a mode of conservatism either; it is simply a way of constructing poetry which manifests and works on a maximum number of levels to achieve the maximum inherent memorability and potency. The more tools we may use to create poetry, the more liberal, and liberated, we are.