Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Strong Verse, Part 3: Trobar ric, part the second: Fun Verse, Van Verse, and Full Verse

So first we'll need new terms.

Semantics is always important, you know.

Trobar leu is easy. "Light verse" is already an accepted term that is only a vehicle for derision when an idiot is speaking. However, since idiots often speak, let's go with "fun verse," for reasons we'll see later.

Trobar clu presents a greater renaming problem. In many respects it's a form of shibboleth--a poetry for poets' sake, a secret handshake--and at the same time it can and does pull the art of poetry forward. "Vanguard verse" is delightful and alliterative--and retains a nod to "avant-garde" without owing a loaded debt. Since "fun verse" is a spondee, however, I think we should stick with that metrical pattern and skip, Cockney-like, to "van verse."

So we are left with Trobar ric. "Rich verse" is the obvious answer, but I think "ripe verse" is more accurate--if less serious. Likewise I am tempted by "perfect verse" though that is 1) too big of a hand-tip and 2) annoyingly arrogant. "Plenary verse" is the right feel but the wrong word, metrically and lexically. So we're left with the "Saxony" shortenings of plenary: "whole" and "full." As "whole" has a popular and unwanted homophone, we'll go with "full verse."

So we have three classes of poetry, coming roughly from the troubadoric terms:

Fun verse
Van verse
Full verse.

They line up metrically and alliteratively. Good and poetic terms for good and poetic things.

Fun verse is easy to read and immediately understandable but does not gain meaning upon multiple readings. It is not superficial or shallow--for those words are far too loaded to be useful but, if such a word can serve here, fey, or indeed, fun.

We must have fun verse because it teaches readers that poetry is not a puzzle while endearing and indoctrinating them into poetry's many forms and folds. It must be praised and encouraged as it, like all poetry, is difficult to write well.

Van verse is poetry that is exceedingly difficult for the layman to read and understand. Only poets and rare connoisseurs of poetry enjoy--or benefit from--reading it. The closed nature of van verse in no way diminishes it. All art needs a vanguard to discover what can and what cannot work within the limits of the mode.

We must, however, ensure that we--as poets and teachers and promoters of poetry--do not treat van verse as if it were the "only proper form" of writing poetry. Too many poets view form and experimentation as more important connection--and because of the grave tendency within "the right people" to view anything that has popular appeal with derision, there is a trend toward valuing "the new" and "the difficult" and "the unpopular" above all others. Such hubris cannot be encouraged--though we should not commit the reverse sin of throwing out van verse altogether. Just as surely as we will lose new readers without fun verse we will lose all freshness without van verse.

Full verse should combine the best of fun and van verse. It should be easy to read and immediately understandable but it should reward and grow from multiple readings. The form should not be in the forefront but appear as a supporting structure to the verse. It is from full verse that the language should grow--as it once did through the works of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Tennyson, and Longfellow.

Full verse, being neglected in the current longueur, must be encouraged and gotten out to the layman reader. Perhaps the efforts of EA, Longfellow, and Dante will remind people that such works are enjoyed by more than just the attendees of MFA programs and workshops. Perhaps not. To say that the current world of mainstream publishing is unfriendly to poetry is to make an obvious understatement. Serialization might help. A friendly magazine certainly would--perhaps Poetry or another high-tone rag can serialize a long narrative poem. Maybe one of the many periodicals famous for publishing short stories. But again, maybe not. I'm not enthusiastic about the world of print publishing. Serialization online similar to online comics may be the best bet.

Obviously I'm most interested in full verse--as I likely would have been interested in van verse at the turn of the 19th/20th centuries--as a lover and defender of the art of poetry I feel compelled to ensure it is a complete art--with introductory, experimental, and mature work.

As this series continues, which will probably get some name like "complete poetry," we'll look at how to integrate full poetry into the already established teaching curricula of van poetry (and how to get fun poetry in there, too) and what changes can be made (or proposed) that will allow room for full poetry in publishing (where fun poetry and van poetry are already well-established, if not well-read).

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Strong Verse, Part 2: Trobar ric, part the first

Troubadors, the medieval rock stars who gave us the Canzone, the Sonnet, and the Sestina, divided poetry into three classes:

Trobar leu, or light verse: broad-based and appealing poetry meant to reach as wide an audience as possible.

Trobar clus, or closed verse: difficult and complex verse for poets and fine connoisseurs of poetry.

Trobar ric, or rich verse: a middle path between the two--involving wordplay and complexity but without losing its broad appeal.

My contention is that we, as poets, have given up on trobar ric and that this is precisely why poetry has failed as a popular medium for art.

Ron Silliman correctly points out that experiments in poetry fall into the trobar clus category. His conclusions about trobar ric and leu are off--and his thoughts on trobar clus could use some refining. At any rate, I am not here to bow to him, but I thought since I ran across his post researching this one I should mention it.

So here it is:

Most poetry that sells is trobar leu: Billy Collins, Shel Silverstein, Bok's Eunoia, Ginsberg--it's easy to read and immediately understandable. It may reward multiple readings and deep delving but, more often than not, all that's there is there.

Most poetry that is praised by poets is, not surprisingly, trobar clus. Unlike Silliman, however, I include not just avant-garde works in the Pound/Olson/Johnson vein or some of the complex trickery of a Mohammed (most avant-garde poetry is trobar leu anyway--see flarf). I also include most of the neo-formalists--as for many of them--whether audience or poet--the majesty of the structure overcomes the subject--and an obsession with small forms has resulted in "little" poetry. It's often praised and well-received by other poets but it's not on a grand enough scale to draw in laymen--while a painter may be interested in brush strokes an observer wants to see the whole picture.

So we have candy and we have caviar. What we don't have is a main course.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Strong Verse, Part 1: Looking forward (and backward)

Lyric poetry remains useless.

I know that's not the most popular sentiment I've expressed.
Indeed, many of the folks who I've reviewed here on the blog disagree with me, more or less vehemently.

I submit, though, that their greatest poems are the ones that tell stories. Go back, read some Yezzi & Essbaum--tell me which poems strike you and you'll see the story.

I am persuaded to generalize the above statement:

The lyric mode is useless.

I say this because the point of the lyric mode is incapable of providing the breadth of experience necessary to continue to validate our artistic medium.

In other words, everyone is painting portraits and no one is painting the Sistine Chapel.

Okay, that's not entirely true--as my reviews point out. It is to some extent though. David Mason uses the techniques of Sistine Chapel painting to give us a really big portrait & Campbell McGrath paints on a large scale but uses an unrefined hand. I know there are others--though my readers have been lax of late in offering new narratives up to me--and certainly none of them are taking the literate world by storm.


That's the hell of it, isn't it?

It's the question I've been asking for the better part of a decade and the only answer I can come up with is that there is little-to-no interaction between the layman audience and the poet.

This is not true of performance poets. The problem is that performance and content are so inextricable that they poet may never be able to suss out what was good from what was bad--only to change one or the other and judge the reception.

Now, generally the reaction between the layman audience and the novelist is limited to sales--but sales of poetry books are so few and far between that this is difficult to judge (at best). And when a book of poetry sells to laymen it often does because it is either a curiosity or by someone "famous" (like Jewel & Tupac's books--or, in the case of Cobain's journals--both).

So until books of poetry start to sell we won't know what the audience wants and we won't know what the audience wants until books of poetry start to sell.

Well at least now we know what's happened since elitism overtook poetry (and patrons stopped being people and started being corporations).

So how do we look at what an audience wants?

I think I've pretty exhaustively gone over the notion that the reading audience wants stories. If you still doubt that, I'm not sure I can convince you know. Look me up at AWP in April and we'll talk about it. So we have looked at the present and we know its answer.

So how do we look forward to producing such work? For that we have to look about eight centuries backward--and look to a different post.

Friday, February 12, 2010

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