Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I will sing the song that ends the Earth

So much for Walt Whitman.

So much for us as poets, really. That comic -- just that one, not their entire body of work is better than any damn poem I read during the years I subscribed to the New Yorker. That's like what, 400 poems? Not that it's a poem. Please, please never mistake me for an idiot who thinks that everything can "be poetic." I am not that person.

The problem it belies, however, is that two geeks with a pen and photoshop can make something more interesting and memorable than 400 or so of the "best poems" by the "best poets" of our times. Now before we get off into debates on whether or not The New Yorker actually represents the "best poetry of our time," let us understand that it believes that it does and -- as it has, by far, the largest circulation of any periodical that regularly contains poetry (1,000,000 compared with The National Review's 150,000 and The Nation's 100,000 or Poetry's paltry 30,000) -- it well may.

What's wrong with this, of course, is that it represents poetry as some sort of "experience." The smarty readers of The New Yorker want to be able to pretend that they read and enjoyed and understood the twenty or thirty lines of drivel about clouds and dreams and warzones and that they "do poetry" or some other nonsense.

Poetry, of course, is no "experience." It is a form of communication. A medium, not a message (fuck off, Marshall), which brings me back to my original point -- lyric poetry is dead. Why?

Because if poetry is nothing more than communication, we can do a hell of a lot better describing something with a picture or a song or a youtube video. In fact, it would be so hard to make our descriptions more beautiful and important than a mere daugerrotype that we should stop trying until we can figure out how to write poetry again.

Because there is one thing that poetry is amazing at. Storytelling. The Homeric epics existed and thrived in a time of dramatic presentations for the gods. There is something available in the language of narrative poetry that exists nowhere else in the world of storytelling. Shakespeare knew this, and so composed his plays with the language of epic verse and the situations of Romance novels. Eisenstein wrote Ivan the Terrible in the verse of Russian epics for this very reason. Some plays and movies can come close to the visceral connection with language that changes our very chemistry but they almost always miss their mark. Novels don't even try.

And now, because we can only see what is in front of us, we come to believe that poems never had that power. And we murder what is poetry.


Kirby Olson said...

Some surrealist poetry works. I like Soupault's poetry. It's not quite narrative.

It's personal, and often rather haunting. It does narrate, but not a story with beginning, middle and end.

It's often a bunch of leaps from inner to outer, set in a given place, and is amusing, too.

He's not popular in America, but in France is still in print.

Kirby Olson said...

Also, have you ever read Henry J-M Levet's poems?

I translated them all for a journal called Jacket. It's just 12 pages.

They do tell a kind of story: happy as well as sad, and full of everyday details.

You could google them. They're online.

Just google Henry J-M Levet.

He was a French diplomat at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. He wrote a dozen poems that are considered to be the next step in the line from Rimbaud.

But they're quite readable.

Anonymous said...

Haha, don't feel too bad. They were just invoking H.P. Lovecraft. Any nerd, under the right circumstances, could do it.

Anonymous said...

You're just a fucking pretentious dipshit. Honestly, you think generic grim, dark, dramatic, cliched shit is amazing. By linking to that comic you just outed yourself as a stupid twit. Don't you realize how retarded you sound when you criticize poets for failing to impress as well as magazine readers for their lack of taste when you praise that trash?

You're just a chump that likes to dramatize things. "Oh no, real poetry is dead! Nothing speaks to my soul anymore!"

Poetry never speaks to the soul. We don't have souls. We're flesh and blood and you're trying to act as if poetry is some magic, extraordinary thing. It's not vastly superior to regular storytelling/descriptive writing. Really, it isn't. Just shut the fuck up. You're being disgustingly pretentious.

G. M. Palmer said...

Really, Spanky?

You do know this post is 3 years old, yes?

Anyway, I am not a dipshit, though you could, I suppose find evidence of your first two accusations.

I'm trying to figure out what "generic grim, dark, dramatic, cliched shit" you're referring to; I don't see how Penny Arcade fits; perhaps it does, but I don't really see it.

Perhaps you do mean Penny Arcade, because you go on to talk about me "praising that trash." Well, if it is trash, it is refuse on a more engaging level than most mainstream poetry (though in the three years since I wrote this, Poetry [at least] is doing a much better job).

And though I don't mention the soul or the body, I do mention the "visceral connection" that verse, especially narrative verse, makes with us.

So, although I do acknowledge the existence of the soul (and we'll just have to agree for you to be wrong on this one), the soul or "speaking to the soul" has little to do with my support of long-form narrative verse--meter's effect on the body, however, does entirely.

Which, of course "regular storytelling/descriptive writing," i.e. prose, demonstrably doesn't do.

Now, would you like to explain why you're all full of hateraid or are you going to disappear back into your anonymous shadows?

Clampjaw said...

I believe what makes this so memorable is that it is a regular part of tabletop/roleplaying/nerd culture practiced on frequent basis but published in a widely viewed format rather than exposed to a limited amount of people.

Dungeon Masters have a specific role to fulfill- to engage their players. They do so by borrowing themes from several various culture throughout the world, both historical and contemporary and adapting it to whatever setting they are currently using, whether that be science fiction, fantasy, horror or modern. And in order to stay ahead of his or her players, a DM must constantly absorb and create new material to entertain the players throughout the campaign, which is not unheard of lasting for years at a time.
Because of this culture, often it socially acceptable within to use eloquent and antiquated language for either standard communication, theatrics or mere comic relief.

While I have no intention of insulting professional poets or writers of any kind, I do believe there is a difference between a culture that employs such usage of language on a weekly or nightly basis, versus one that does so in order to finish up a handful of poems or short stories. Moments like this happen frequently when gaming with any DM worth his salt and because of the nature of the gaming culture, knowledge of such events will only ever be known by the participants and a handful of selected friends