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.


Patrick Gillespie said...

Hey G.M.! Just happened to drop by Silliman's and there you were.

I personally don't have anything against any particular form, least of all the lyric.

But the lyric, like free verse, is easy to write. There are no rules. And so everyone writes them whether they have talent or not. And who's going to tell them they have no talent? - by what criteria?

Writing narrative poetry isn't going to solve anything unless the poets writing it have some talent - maybe even genius.

Readers just want good poetry.

The general reader still buys poetry, though it's generally the poetry of the early 20th century or before. I suspect that if your theory were right, one would expect them to buy far more narrative poetry. But they don't. When the general reader has a favorite poet or poem they are almost universally shorter poems or lyrics. (I base this on the various "favorite poem" projects that have popped up every so often.)

I know that you love narrative poetry, but it's a small niche. I think you might be deluding yourself if you believe the reading public wants narrative poetry, but I'm ever so read to be proven wrong. Please. :-)

G. M. Palmer said...

Hey Patrick!

I happened to check my analytics page and see Ron linked to not 1 but 2 pages this morning. Huzzah!

Oh, new baby is awesome by the way. If you're a facebooky sort of person there are cute baby pics to be had.

Well, remember that these buyers are buying about 1/10 of a percent of all books (that's about what all poetry sales represent) so we're still talking a nick of a niche.

We have to get poetry back in front of people--that's what I'm talking about in this series--making sure we write and encourage the three tiers of poetry--fun, full, and van so that we can encourage, sustain, and develop both poetry and a love of poetry among the widest possible audience.

G. M. Palmer said...

Oh and two more things:

I think I owe Ron Silliman a drink if he's going to be at AWP. He serves as a fine foil and his links cain't be beat.

And re: the lyric:

I learned all I need to know about hyperbole from Bret Easton Ellis.

Patrick said...

//Oh, new baby is awesome by the way.//

:-) Have fun and enjoy! Nothing better.

//If you're a facebooky sort of person there are cute baby pics to be had.//

I tried facebook for about two weeks, then got the hell off. I'm not the kind who likes lots of contact or "friends". In fact, Facebook cheapens the whole concept of a "friend". Folks who like me will know where to find me.

Patrick said...

Sheesh... don't know where that last smiley came from.

G. M. Palmer said...

Aw, don't hate on Facebook.

It's a great way to spread pictures around!

J said...

GM actually approaches Truth, but it's not the "the lyric mode is useless", but....something like "poetry is 95% uselessness".


Maybe start by emulating, say,
Macbeth. or Moby Dick. Or the Manson phamily tragedy for that matter

Patrick Gillespie said...

/GM actually approaches Truth, but it's not the "the lyric mode is useless", but....something like "poetry is 95% uselessness".//

Ha! Right.... But 95% of poetry is lyric, so I'm not sure what point your making!

GM 1
J 0