5.10.2005

my language wants to get high

Took a look at Joan Houlihan's article On the Prosing of Poetry over at WebdelSol. It was as invective as usual. Here we go (though this isn't excerpted from the invective parts):

Although spoken, poetry was not common; it was instead, a singular kind of speech, reserved for relaying important or sacred events, ensuring that such events would be remembered almost in a physical way, in the body's deep response to sound, rhythm and imagery. Speaking poetically served a purpose. Speaking prosaically also served a purpose to negotiate everyday reality, to speak of those things which were common to all and not worthy of long remembrance to speak of the world in transit.

I don't even know where to start with this, but let's step back for a minute. Joan sets about claiming that there are specific language devices that define a proper poem--as opposed to the 'non-poems' she seeks to undermine:

sound, rhythm, and heightened, pictorial language, economy of expression ('epigrammatic' speech that encodes many meanings in as few words as possible) and assonance, consonance, alliteration, parallelism

Exactly which of these characteristics distinguish poetry from prose? I suppose some people like to modify the term prose along the lines of poetic prose and prose poem. But these distinctions are completely arbitrary, especially in light of establishing the poetic as a set of devices employed upon the use of language. Also, exactly which of these characteristics are more important? If a poem does not possess alliteration, is no longer a poem? What if the alliteration is purely coincidental, can it still be marked off on the Create-a-Poem checklist? I would suspect that Joan would say no, but then the question begs to be asked: What number of these devices must be present to constitute the critical mass of a poem?

Also, (and Cristi I'm looking at you on this one) what's up with heightened language? Assumedly, I'm writing this in shortened language. But, I could like the long cheetah around the bear absolutely assume that the fiery composition of this sentence, branded upon the blog, becomes the bird like speech she seeks? Have I just heightened my language? Did the sentence a reverberate in your body? I suppose that I'm being a tad glib here, but I think there's something broken about necessitating that a poem or any genre of language for that matter must employ heightened language. If anything, the purposeful encoding of "many meanings in as few words as possible" only exposes the very act of encoding itself. Shortened language is as equally rich with layers of encoding, it is by its being unprivileged as "unheightened" that this encoding becomes transparent.

Despite this, I will say that Joan does pick on some pretty unappealing poems. She even takes a swipe at the late R. C. and his poem Mitch:

Mitch was a classmate
later married extraordinary poet
and so our families were friends
when we were young
and lived in New York, New Hampshire, France.

Mitch, Robert Creeley

Which, alright. Fair enough. This isn't my cup of tea either, but I think it's exceptionally ironic that Joan chose this one to pick on. The poem reads like an obituary, a marking of someone's death. Under Joan's privileging of the 'poetic', the death of a friend certainly warrants the occasion of a poem. Additionally, if the poem were to be pulled into one sentence (one of Joan's many contentions--in fact the title of the article--is the prosing of poetry) it would not parse easily. How does it follow that what Mitch has done later in his life is responsible for the author and Mitch's parents being friends "when [they] were young"? Does this break with prose sentence logic mark a heightening of Creeley's language?

I suppose Joan's contention would be that why is this a poem? I would say that it can find no other home than under the heading of 'poetry'. This is especially true if you subscribe to the belief that we mark special occasions, things to be remembered (not the transitory), with poetic language. By the very nature of this being labeled a poem, does not the language instantly become poetic?

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