Monday, March 1, 2010

Strong Verse, Part 4: Notes Towards a Perfection of Poetry

So WAY back in 2006, when this blog was still a twinkle in its father's eye, I spent a summer in the family castle of Ezra Pound in Brunnenburg, Italy. Having read a great deal of Pound's zany poetry propaganda, I wrote a typography-heavy manifesto called "a poetics of perfection." For many obvious reasons, it and its accompanying chapbook remain hidden.

Culling through the exuberance to the meat of the argument, however, brings me to the next step in the development of a strong poetics. Some of it came through in the declaration, but this work on "Strong Verse" will, I hope, expand upon and update the declaration. Here I present the manifesto, with exuberance redacted:

How does one approach perfection in poetry?

1. Use Precise Language:

a) Do not use a thousand words when four will do.
Repetition is neutral. It is the unnecessary that is disgusting.

b) Do not use lukewarm language.
Use the word that means what you are saying. English is second only to German for usefulness in this regard.

c) If you must be ambiguous, do not be vague.
Have more than one meaning but don't be paralyzed by every possible meaning a reader works on your words. That is, open the doors of your language – don’t tear down the house.

2. Write With Authority

a) If it didn’t happen to you, write like it did.

b) Don't use "as if" or "seems" or any similar word or phrase.

3. Give the readers what they need.

a) Poetry should not require a secret decoder ring.
If your poetry requires esoteric references either explain them or make them clear enough that your readers can find the information on their own. One may need to read Hamlet in order to fully understand “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” but at least Eliot tells us that.

b) Your readers care about your verse, not you.
They don’t care about your inside jokes, emotions, thoughts, knowledge, tantric ability, whatever. They care about the language that you have given the world.

c) Your readers don't know you.
Instead of expecting them to "get you" and your references, assume they don't know what you're talking about. Don't spoonfeed them but remember any deficiencies they will have. Allow them the chance to understand your work as you do.

4. Use Natural Language

a) Write the way you speak.

b) Poetry is linguistic art, but it is still language.
That is, your poetry must exist within a common idiom. If no one lives your language, your art has no impact.


1. Use Precise Language

2. Write With Authority

3. Give the Readers What They Need

4. Use Natural Language

I think perhaps (1) and (4) could be combined. As I said, this is a rehash from a 4-year-old ranty sort of work. The final two points I want to resurrect from Italian ashes are these:

Poets must be recalled from their staleness and complicity.
In Pound's time, this was the Edwardian-style of overstuffed, Longfellowian rhyming verse. Today it is the Silliman-school of versa-obscura and, conversely, his correct attacks on the so-called "School of Quietude." I have long maintained that non-avant poets need to broaden the horizon of their verse.

No one will read poetry until we are writing poems that are good to read.
Poets are caretakers of humanity, not forensic scientists of letters. We must write for the good of the world and not for the amusement of our own devices, ourselves, or our over-educated brains.

This, along with the three classifications of verse from last week (and the rest of the blog, really) will serve as a foundation for the forthcoming poetics of Strong Verse. Happy reading and happy writing, fellow poets!