Of "inversions" and "resistances" - Blog

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Of "inversions" and "resistances"

A notion has become prevalent in recent poetic theory that "inversions" are to be avoided in writing poems.  An "inversion" is an inversion in syntax in the sense of changing the normal order of words in a phrase.  As one guide for the practicing poet states:  Invcrsions so defined are "artificial and unintentionally comic in their attempts to sound poetic.  Far from being more genuinely poetic, such phrases have the opposite effect:  they create bathos and insincerity where the poet wants genuine feeling and believable expression."  Steven Kowit, In the Palm of Your Hand, at 40 (Tilbury House 1995).  

Frankly, while I do not defend so-called poets who insert in their poems "prettified language of the sort that people (who don't read poetry) sometimes imagine is quintessentially poetic," id., I believe that concern over "inversions" is in the case of poets who do read poetry (and know what true poetry is) is totally misplaced.

 

I would like to put forward as an example of an inversion one that prompted a warning from a respected professor of English at an elite American University with respect to one of my poems.  The poem is as follows:

                                   A GOD I DID NOT RECOGNIZE

 

A God I did not recognize

Tried to blackmail me

Looked me straight in the eyes

Demanded: “Believe in Me”

 

When I said that I could not

He told me: “Go to hell!”

Claimed to have a better spot

Where everything is swell

 

Although his entreaty I resisted

And I’ve not seen him since

He insists still I only existed

Because of his footprints.

 

 

The "inversion" that was challenged in this poem was the first line of the final stanza - "Although his entreaty I resisted."  What was objectionable about this line?  Granted, if I were writing a prose poem and not concerned with end rhymes, the line may have been written:  "Although I resisted his entreaty."   However, I deliberately chose not to do so.  My choice was based upon what I had learned about "resistances."  Let me tell you what "resistances" are, because the persons who preach against inversions seem be unaware of the function of the poet to create and then conquer "resistances."

In my manuscript (Poetry is), the following is said in Chapter Seventeen on the subject of "resistances" in the poet's language:

"All of the problems of poetry writing are technical.  The work of Cummings sometimes looks very 'free,' but in fact he was one of the great tcchnicians in poetry.  In order to be a technician in poetry, one must confront art as a problem.

The artist is always looking for a problem to solve and this problem is always esthetic.  The artist creates the problem himself.  He solves the problem as best he can - he finds technical solutions for the problems that he creates.

The poet resists the easiness of self expression.  He or she creates resistances in his or her language. . . .  Everything is tentative and provisional until the correct language comes along.  The poet presses language until what is said is good and right.  He or she gets meaning from language after wrestling with it, and the language of poets is not explainable in prose terms."

And, in Chapter Twenty-Three, devoted to "The Craft of Versification," it is said:  "The poet deals with resistances by language, by rhythm, by meaning, and these resistances you must correlate.  Versification always means creating resistances.  The excellence of a poem lies in its resistances. Things must resist us when we want to do them, so that they can resist time when it wants to undo them."

So the dreaded "inversion" that was criticized in my above poem because it lacked the easy expression of prose was in fact a technical response to the problem I created for myself in choosing the rhyme scheme that I chose in the initial stanza of the poem.  I solved the problem by means of the "inversion" and in my mind brought the poem to a successful conclusion that wrapped up the poem in an organized whole - a functioning closed system.

Does anyone believe that I made a mistake by resisting the easiness of prose expression in favor of achieving this solution to my problem?  The whole concept of "inversions," based as it is upon present notions that prose chopped up into lines to mimic verse is true poetry, should be purged from any literature that purports to tell the poet how to write poems as art.

 

 

 

 

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Vocation: Wall Street Trial Lawyer (Retired)
Avocation: Poetry and Poetics
Studied poetry with Jose Garcia Villa 1970-1997
Writer and Publisher of Poetry

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Guest Tuesday, 23 January 2018