free verse continued

An excerpt from my paper on Robert Creeley:

A consideration of Robert Creeley’s poetics must account for this. Although later in life, Creeley was to abandon the heavy emphasis he usually placed upon the ends of lines, they could only be excised so much as they weren’t literally written into the poem. They are, in fact, an inseparable part of most of his poems. Creeley’s lines are usually heavily enjambed. Often, articles, verbs and prepositions are left dangling at the ends of lines, a device which has been said to pull the poem quickly down into the next line. This is without a doubt one of this device’s effects. His poems are quick, and true to the form of projective verse, one perception moves ‘instanter on’ another. This is not, however, the sole effect of the enjambed, end-stopped lines. Their effect reaches much farther.

“Form is never more than an extension of content,” Creeley once told Charles Olson. True to the dictum, the form of Creeley’s poems are dependent upon the content. In his poems, he moves quickly from one image, one though onto the next. This was ultimately on his goals as a poet: “I wanted the fastest juxtaposition possible, and the least explanatory manner.” The quickness of his form lends itself well to such an aim. End line pauses intensify the break between Creeley’s fast moving images, strengthening the contrast of his juxtapositions:

For love—I would
split open your head and put
a candle in
behind the eyes.

Love is dead in us
If we forget
The virtues of an amulet
And quick surprise.
The Warning, For Love

In this first stanza, the first two end words are verbs and the third a preposition. As end words, they beg for completion. What would the I of the poem do? What is being placed, and where in? In four short lines, love, a split-open head, a candle and eyes are placed in sharp contrast with one another. Form supports the juxtaposition of these disparate images against one another. The end-stopped lines serve to heighten the dramatic tension raised by the proposition of a head being split open for love. If the four lines were to be condensed into one or even two lines, the images would lose themselves in one another. It loosely scan as: For love I would turn your head into a jack-o-lantern. This is the virtue of Creeley’s form: There is, in his poems, a constant sense of what is to come. The logic of the poem is laid bare for the tensions that it creates. How will the relations implied by the verbs and preposition be fulfilled?

In formal, rhymed verse, poems ride upon the backs of their end-words. When there is a set rhyme scheme, there is, in the act of reading, an anticipation of the rhyme. Although this anticipation is not the primary focus of reading, it is absolutely a part of it. If one accepts that poetry was originally rhymed to facilitate its memorization, then one must accept this proposition prima facie. In breaking from tradition, Creeley cannot escape it. Readers of poetry are no doubt familiar with the “authoritative poetry” to which he alludes. For better or for worse, these readers have been trained to pay close attention to the end words since grade school. When this model of reading is applied to Creeley it would seem to suggest that by heavily enjambing and end-stopping his lines at odd moments, Creeley brings particular focus to typically overlooked words. Many of his critics support this view. They claim that the end-stopping emphasizes the ‘thingness’ of those terminal words. No doubt, there is some truth in this. Practically, however, it is difficult to say this is necessarily so. It seems somewhat ludicrous to suggest that the ‘thingness’ of words like not, love, she, it, on, for, day (to borrow a few terminal words from The Business ) is what a reader takes away from one of his poems.

On the contrary, it seems more intuitively plausible to posit that the effect of his odd end-stopping and enjambment actually places emphasis upon the first word(s) of the following line. The end of one line and the beginning of the next, for the most part, seem to function in call and response relationship. Terminal words, in Creeley’s poetry, pose questions and the onset of the next line brings an answer (however cryptic it may be). It is this call and response relationship between his lines that, to my mind, contributes the most to the sense of Creeley as jazzy. Reading a Creeley poem, one anticipates not the completion of a rhyme sequence, but the completion of a thought. Once, Creeley wrote that a poem should be “a structure of recognition—better—cognition itself”. This rapidity of movement and juxtaposition from line to line lives up to his definition of poetry as ‘cognition’. One is constantly in following the process of the poem, each line revealing a further layer of the idea underhand.

free verse and me

You, also, by extension. A random note worth adding to the dialogue here on Invented Usage. Admittedly this dialogue has been a little slow coming lately, but -- as cristi says -- it should be more frequent given the "home" situation. Did anyone mention that Cristi will be Managing Editing the College Hill Independent next semester? Congratulations, Cristi. I'm proud of you.

To poetry. That infernal beast. The topic no one cares about, or at least far less people than should. An interesting point raised by Keith Waldrop and something I talked about for some length in a paper I just completed on Robert Creeley, involves the change in expectation created by free verse. Formal verse, rhymed verse, has a very clear form of expectation. One, simply, expects the rhyme to complete itself. A to rhyme with A, B to rhyme with B. There is also an expectation of ending put in place by a metrical system (Iambic Pentameter [that beast]). One has a conscious and unconscious expectation for the completion of these regular devices.

In free verse, this is not so. Lines can be of indeterminate length (and often are). Free verse is often blank, unrhymed. As one moves from line to line, what is one to expect? What, in a sense, pulls the reader's attention down the page? Simply, it is the expectation of completion. The expectation is not at the end of line, at the termination of the form, but upon the induction of the next thought.

This idea is exemplified well in the poetry of Robert Creeley. I will, tomorrow (later today), post a snippet of his poetry and provide a more in depth explanation. More later.


vagueness solved!

haha, just kidding. vagueness poses a critical problem for many branches of language theory. but, after writing a paper on it, and losing a lot of sleep over it, here are my thoughts on vagueness:

1. vagueness is an essential part of the functioning of language. no two objects are precisely the same, so for a word to apply to many similar objects immediately requires vagueness. without vague (and i realize i'm using the term vaguely here) extensions, words could only apply once, and then language wouldn't really function as a language at all.

2. the meanings of words are conventional. everyone says this, but what does it mean? well, David Lewis's book Convention goes a long way toward explaining it in terms of game theory. In a nutshell, Lewis defines convention as: we all want to continue doing the same action provided most other people continue also, but if the majority started doing some alternative action, we would want to switch to that alternative. But he uses it to describe the meanings of whole sentences. If his theories were applied to words, they might usefully describe how vaguenesses and ambiguities and such arise. we use a word to describe a thing only when we think other speakers will do the same. for example, our only way of knowing whether a man is bald or not bald is to consider whether others would apply the word 'bald' to him.

3. The above example is not just meant to demonstrate that the application of a term to an object is vague. The meaning of the word itself changes based on how speakers would choose to apply it. i'm not really sure how to articulate this difference, but it's very important.

that's all for now. hopefully posting will be more frequent now that we're all settled at home.


Where have I gone? Where am I going?

This shall be a short post. One to shake of the cobwebs and provide a jumping off point for further posting. It's been a busy peiod here, lots of paper writing and the like. I just finished a paper on Grice this evening. Since then, I've been trying to occupy myself and decompress.

Anyway, this is post to say I'm here. For those of you, like myself, who enjoy distracting yourself with games, I recommend that you check out Icy Tower. What's Icy Tower? Icy Tower is a game in which you play the role of Harold the Homie, a small sprite trapped inside an infinite tower of platforms. Harold has no other want in life but jump up and climb the tower of icyness. The goal? To achieve massive combos. A combo, you see, is a succession of multi-floor jumps. If you jump two floors five times in a row, you have achieved a ten floor combo. Keep the combo going and get more points. Simple.

In some ways it's a metaphor for life. We are all trapped in our icy towers attempting to achieve perfection in the limited vocabulary of moves afforded us. This is stretching it, I realize, but f**k that. What's philosophy got to do with it.

If in an icy tower then jump. From Icy Tower infer JUMP!



new invented users!

or, invention users? we don't want them to sound made up....

Since school is busy, and five heads are better than two, we've taken on some new talent here at invented usage. please give a short, screen-directed burst of applesauce for Adam F., Josh B., and Seb S.

We hope their wide variety of interests - philosophy, poetry, cognitive science, prose, feral children computer science, to name just a few! - will add some spice to everyone's lives.

this blog is on the fire!


vagueness the third

i admit it; i've had vagueness on the brain these last few weeks. to be honest, it's a pretty frustrating condition. Suddenly, everything seems vague - objects, verbs, adjectives, Kilimanjaro, heaps, baldness, redness. and there is, as yet, no theoretical or philosophical explanation. how do any of us ever know what we're talking about?

fuzzy logic seems promising - especially from a computational view - but it still supposes certain unfuzzy boundaries. if we assign a value of "1" to all atoms that are definently a part of Kilimanjaro, and a range of values between "1" and "0" to those that may or may not be, we still beg the question: how do we know where the boundary of "definently" vs. "potentially" part of Kilimanjaro is?

According to McGee & McLaughlin, who have funny names, supervaluation theory attempts to lay out a set of acceptable models "such that a sentence is determinately true if and only if it is true in each member of the collection." (I don't know what, exactly, a model is, either, but bear with me...) They cite Kit Fine (1975), who came up with constraints that a model has to meet to count as acceptable: these include classificatory and penumbral constraints. (i can't say i know exactly what these are, either.)

one thing i do know is that these constraints are dumb. "classificatory constraints are external: they require a correct classification of extralinguistic objects." how conveeeenient. for a model to evaluate whether "that object is red" is true, it has to first correctly identify whether the object is red. OUTSIDE of language.

and how is that accomplished? i'm glad you asked: "Roughly (the details are elusive), our usage of 'red' will... [consist] of things linguistically competent and visually acute speakers, observing the things under good viewing conditions, would classify as 'red'..." so... uh.... whether something is 'red' extralinguistically is based on how SPEAKERS would CLASSIFY an object. in language.

i'm starting to formulate my own theory, because i've been reading Convention with vagueness on the brain as well, but this post is too long already. stay tuned!