Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Strong Verse, Part 7: Strong Verse, Living Art

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6

This post will end the series on creating "Strong Verse." It begins with a bit of discourse on criticism and theory.

So I've found myself dealing again with content created by the fellows at Penny Arcade. Specifically the following:

"As Tycho mentioned, Ebert is simply filling a role played out by art critics throughout history. There was the newspaper headline back in 1959 with regards to Jackson Pollock's work that said "This is not art — it's a joke in bad taste." It's a funny line but time has proven it was also completely wrong. Ebert has thrown his hat in with the rest of the short sighted critics who would rather debate what is or isn't art, rather than simply enjoy the work of artists."

There are two halves to this argument of "Gabe's": the first half, that "time has proven it was also completely wrong" is a bit of a stretch--will Pollack's work still be hanging in a hundred years? Three hundred? That's the time scale of art--which is at heart, the problem with both being a critic and being a critically minded artist (as opposed to one who simply "creates" without mind to audience or time--but generally those ditherers are not worth spending ones time on). Moreover, it doesn't take into account the critics and patrons who supported Pollack.

But the part of Gabe's quote I've been running around in my head is the second part, regarding "short sighted critics who would rather debate what is or isn't art rather than enjoy the work of artists." On the one hand, he does us a great deed to remind us that the proper response of art is our enjoyment.

Critics, on the other hand, serve an important purpose, as recounted in the inimitable Ratatouille:

"There are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talents, new creations. The new needs friends."

"The New," is of course, the crux of the problem. Too many critics are concerned with defining "the Good" and not finding "the New."

Defining "the Good" is not possible. What I've tried to do on this blog when writing about writing for the past two years is not to define the Good but recognize its signs and encourage poets to write not for themselves but for the Good. But this is writing theory. One must be careful not to confuse theory with criticism.

It is the job of the critic to discover and defend the new.
It is the job of the theorist to recognize and encourage the Good, which needs no defense.
It is the job of the poet to create work both new and good.

That having been said, let's come to the remaking of a living art (or the resurrection thereof, depending on your level of pessimism)--making a Strong Verse.

It must be said, of course, that poetry is alive and well within the realm of poets--a nebulous population of perhaps a hundred thousand to a million souls in the US.

But poetry has left the mainstream. No longer does a Longfellow create the idiom of the coming decade. No longer does a Dante create and enshrine a new language.

It is possible that that task has been given to song birds and television and film writers. Possible, though depressing.

In order for poetry to return from the echoing halls of academia, strong verse must be brought back to the mainstream. There are three ways for this to happen:

First, the Wagnerian argument that poetry must be a larger part of art (as in, one part of opera--which I'm sure Wagner would put on "the big screen" now) is certainly a tempting one. As I mentioned in the AWP recap, the discussion regarding poetry and opera librettos was both fascinating and productive--I am still waiting for the delightful and energetic Beth to put out her list of poets and composers interested in collaboration--and, indeed, as "novelizations" of films tend to sell very well, it is possible, even probable, that a successful opera, whether filmed or live, would put books of poetry into the hands of non-poets.

The second, as David Yezzi says, is for poetry to embrace the dramatic element, either fully--in developed plays, as Eliot and MacLeish did, or partially--in poems, as Frost was famous for.

The last has been my argument all along, that contemporary poetry is hung on the cross of fealty to the lyric and that narrative poetry will engage the mainstream.

All three arguments are essentially the same--we should tell stories with our verse.

Of the parts of "strong verse," "full verse" is the voice of narrative poetry.

I hope that this series will serve as the definitive theory of this blog. I would prefer to spend my time on discovering and defending the new strong verse being written today--the new narratives that will define our language in the decades to come.

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