Friday, February 17, 2006

Is poetry inconsequential, as, say, shooting quail?

Alex Cumberbatch writes in, reflecting on the Cheney incident.

    Is poetry inconsequential
    As, say, shooting quail?

    As rigs that syphon gallons?
    As boot of battalion?
    Kurd, Iraqi:
    Serf, lackey.

    Powell's surreal edition
    Reads like crude fiction.
    He delights in his old flame,
    That damned awful name:

    Bombastic beauty, Bin Baalzabooby!
    Behold her hell bent fury,
    Your only defence, Of Counsel
    When scandals rock your smug cartel.

    The unborn inveigh from the womb,
    Against the sanguinary crew
    Who millions slew and slew Hai!
    Whispers in Yakusuni Tomb.

6 Comments:

At 8:12 AM, Blogger Id it is said...

Cumberwatch's poems are often difficult for me to comprehend, and this is yet another. I cannot get the connection. Is he bemoaning the inconsequent nature of contemporary poetry, and thus comparing it to the meaninglessness happenings around the world?

 
At 5:47 PM, Anonymous Alex Cumberbatch said...

"Cumberwatch"--an intriguing variant of my name.

I'll refrain from exegesis of my own writing--as I feel that poetry is a form that should readers the freedom to respond and interpret the text as they feel makes sense or not without being bullied by the author.

However, I am willing to address the poem's lack of clarity--a stylistic issue which seems to be at the core of the complaint.

I wonder whether we should look to poetry for clearly drawn lines of meaning, because reality, as I experience it, is not like that. This is, perhaps, the difference between politicalspeak and poetry. Politicians typically attempt to impose a false homogeneity on the diversity that is the world thereby reducing it to slogans and sound bite. Poetry, by contrast, is in itself a sceptical orientation to language and conventional usage.

Not getting the connection is actually a healthy sign, as far as I am concerned; as I think a lot of writing comes neatly packaged to readers with readymade connections--so there is very little left to think about--you either agree or don't agree--and there is seldom an in-between.

Poems sometimes confirm our personal view of the world in ways that seem transparent. While I appreciate it when this happens, I am also wary of poetry that sets out deliberately to do this. I would rather see poetry open up discussion than close it by neat aphoristic summation.

Oftentimes, arguments on poetics are framed in terms of simplicity (clarity) vs difficulty (opaqueness). Poetry, however, exhibits acute awareness of sound for expressing its meanings, and unlike normative writing is not primarily dependent on semantics even when poems seem to mimic prose or incorporate familiar speech patterns into their fabric.

Poems, in a way, are like musical instruments, so they produce different sounds and meanings according to the way in which they are constructed and played. The key is in listening. The ear (in both poet and reader) is the organ most capable of connecting the links in a poem that escape comprehension of the intellect.

But one may play an instrument badly, and perhaps that is what has happened in this particular poem.

 
At 7:47 AM, Blogger Id it is said...

Sorry about the misspelling, and thank you for the comment.

At the outset let me start by saying I love poetry and admire people who write it. Poetry is definitely a subjective expression of the poet’s reality, and it doesn’t have to appear homogenous to the readers. After all it is a ‘spontaneous overflow of powerful emotion’, so it cannot be like a ‘political speak’ or be expected to follow ‘conventional usage’. Given that it’s born out of spontaneity, and from the sensory perceptions of another individual who is providing the reader with a window into his ‘personal view of the world’, a reader may or may not be able to appreciate the view presented, which of course is no reflection on the meaning or the feelings expressed in the piece.
However, since poetry is oftentimes read in the absence of its creator and seldom listened to as a rendition by the poet, it is open to diverse reader interpretations, most of which are born out of the semantics presented in the piece and as understood by the reader depending on his literary proficiency.

As for the analogy you draw.. playing an instrument is a skill, one that can be mastered with practice. Poetry, on the other hand is not an acquired skill. It is born out of a combination of strong sensory receptivity and a fertile intellect that makes unique connections between the poet’s outward reality and his inner thought to create meaning out of an otherwise incomprehensible (a vice president shooting his friend while hunting) and sometimes monotonous universe. For a poetry lover, not getting this meaning is a frustrating experience, and that’s what happened with me. I did not mean to offend. Merely venting my exasperation at my limitation for being unable to appreciate the view you were trying to present through that little window that opened,
“ Is poetry inconsequential…..”

It is, indeed, a pity that poetry readings by poets are rare events, and thus so much of the powerful thought and emotion that a poet wants to put forth is often lost in interpretation.

 
At 7:08 PM, Blogger ideaist.wordpress.com said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 7:10 PM, Blogger ideaist.wordpress.com said...

Alex Cumberbatch said...
Thanks for your thoughtful response. I think the poem alludes to various acts of violence--so the progression is from legally sanctioned bird-killing to acts of war and genocide.

Regarding the broader question of poetry--I disagree that poetry is not a skill. There are different forms of poetry. These forms are invented by human beings and to execute them, one has to follow basic rules. As in other creative endeavours, the psychology of the individual has to harmonise with the physical effort of creating a work.

The idea that poetry is 'a spontaneous overflow of power emotion' comes from Wordsworth. It however has be considered in historical context. Wordsworth was trying to write a poetry that was different in tone from that of the Augustans--for the most part rationalists--who had dominated poetry just prior. In between the Augustans and the Romantics was a transitional period in which the sentimental mode was briefly popular. So you can see a gradual shift from the rigid classical style that culminated in the comparatively freer emotional expression of the Romantics.

I believe the whole quote is:
“Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility”

No definition of poetry is stable--in many respect, poetry is always a product of its time.

 
At 12:21 AM, Anonymous sim carlos said...

that's wonderful poetry :)

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