Sunday, April 26, 2009

framing Oral Poetry vs Visual Poetry

In some of the comments in my last big post, people took me to task about renaming the actors in a poetic debate.

My intention was not to rebrand "School of Quietude" and "Post-Avant" as "Oral Poetry" and "Visual Poetry,"

my intention is to reframe the debate.  The problems that exist are not between the new and the old, as Silliman seems to think -- there's no rebellion here.  

The problems that exist are due to a critical impasse that has become a funcitonal and increasingly financial impasse -- so they're problems that need to be dealt with.

The impasse, as I've said is not new and old, but apples and pears.  They look sort of the same.  Their trees look sort of the same.  Heck, they're even members of the same subfamily

yet some people are devotees of apples and some of pears.

Some people like both.

But if you were a food critic and you couldn't distinguish between the two, there'd be a problem.  If you were a seller of fruit, and didn't know a bartlett from a macintosh, you'd hear about it.  If you were a customer, and the pears were in the apple cart, we'll, you'd go and pick up some of those novel oranges you hear everyone likes so much.

Now for some of you, you may be horrified that I'm speaking of poetry as if it were a commodity.

Well, it is.  It's art, yes -- but you've got to sell it to the people.  If you believe all art should be free and that no one should profit from it, please go start your own website and put all of your work up on there.  Good luck with that. . . If you aren't willing to do that, then you should ask yourself what makes you uncomfortable talking about the marketization of poetry.  

Marketization is important because that's partially how something thrives among humans -- why are there more cows than tigers?  Because cows taste really good.  If tigers tasted like bacon, we'd have tiger farms across the nation.  Now, this isn't always the case -- creating something commercially with no regard for taste usually gives you wal*mart white bread, pop 40 radio, and Billy Collins.  I'm not arguing for that.  What I am arguing for is that poets start to pay attention to the fact that they are producing not just art -- but a product as well.  Every other artist does that.  Jeez!
(back to the point)

And since marketization (of which criticism is a large part) is so important to the survival of poetry, we as poets owe it to ourselves, our audience, and our art (that's in reverse order of importance, btw) to really codify what the heck we're doing in such a way that it becomes conversate-able (that is, something that folks can talk about).

Ergo, instead of looking down our noses at the "inferior" poets who don't write what we think is the Platonic Good of poetry, we can see that they are not inferior -- simply other, and we can embrace them as another facet of art.

So to close with simplicity, there are two forms of poetry:

Oral Poetry:
Poetry whose meaning is independent of seeing its words on the page.  Though placement on the page may be used for reading guides, a written oral poem is essentially a piece of sheet music.  Any change in the words' placement will likely not result in a substantial change in the poem's meaning.

Visual Poetry:
Poetry whose meaning is dependent upon seeing its words on the page.  A visual poem is not like a piece of sheet music but a work of two-dimensional art.  Any change in the words' placement is likely to result in a noticable change in the poem's meaning.

Fair enough?


Summer Girl said...

So much of what you say is complete nonsense, such as:

"Marketization is important because that's partially how something thrives among humans -- why are there more cows than tigers? Because cows taste really good. If tigers tasted like bacon, we'd have tiger farms across the nation."

Really? You think we eat cows because they taste better than tigers, not because if we tried to have "tiger farms," the tigers would eat us?

And then you say "if tigers tasted like bacon." Newsflash for you, who seem to live with your head up your butt: bacon doesn't come from cows. It comes from hogs.

So, after that brilliant display of your intelligence, I giggled when I read your comparison between Billy Collins and white bread and Top 40. He is the rock star of poetry. He is Mick Jagger. He is Paul McCartney. He is Bono-- okay, Bono's daddy. Yes, Billy Collins is the top, the star, the one who reaches so many. Sorry you're jealous of that. But then again, you think bacon comes from cows, so you have bigger problems.

Summer Girl said...

Billy Collins: "Who's your daddy?"

Bono: "You are, Billy."

Billy Collins: "That's right, boy." (Patting the kneeling one on his head.)

G. M. Palmer said...


Not really sure what to do with this.

I mentioned tigers tasting like bacon because bacon is teh gr8 internets meem.

I'm sorry you didn't like my example. Should I have used a less-likely-to-eat-people animal instead -- like oh anteaters?

And Billy Collins sucks. He does. Sorry. His poetry is superficial and boring -- and an excellent example of what happens when you sacrifice the art of poetry for the commoditization of poetry.

And, even were he truly the Mick Jagger of poetry, he doesn't "reach so many."

I know of no one for whom Collins is their favorite poet. Probably not even in the top five.

Moreover, even though he is one of our bestselling poets, he's barely sold 500,000 books in his lifetime.

That means that since he has about 7 published books, each of his books sells about as well as an average mystery novel. Heck, Ender's Game, a 20 year old sci-fi novel, sells more each year than each of Collins' books has in its publication history.

So he's not reaching the masses.

Because poetry isn't reaching the masses. It's not even reaching 1% of the American reading population.

VizPo-Central said...

I'm in the middle between you Summer Girl and you re: Collins, G.M. Although she doesn't seem to rate him very high. I think he's written some decent poems, but isn't close to being a major poet.

I've said enough about your two schools, so won't add anything here, except to point out that K. S. Ernst and quite a few others make 3-D visual poetry. I even made one once.

Poetry of course is a commodity, but a bit different from the kind of commodity that cows are.


David said...

Not defending him because he doesn't need me to, but I only wish I could suck as "bad" as Billy Collins. If he can't write then he sure can market.

I got the bacon/tiger analogy and wasn't side tracked by the bovine brew ha ha.

And just for what it's worth, people seem to enjoy hearing me perform my poetry more than reading my books. When someone quibbles with my line breaks it goes in one ear and out the other.

G. M. Palmer said...

Mr. Collins is certainly the consummate marketer. But his work (that I've seen -- maybe he'll send a few books my way) just doesn't have staying power.

David said...

Collins isn't on my list of must reads, but I do enjoy hearing "The Lanyard." That type of deadpan humor is something rare in poetry.