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.

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