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Theory of Poetry Blog

Blog posts tagged in free verse

A Morning Chuckle

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This morning I had a good chuckle.  In "THE ARTS" section of today's N.Y. Times, I encountered an article on the sale of the archive of The New York Review of Books to the New York Public Library. The Library praised the acquired material as "unique evidence of intellectual life in the United States in the second half of the 20th Century." How does this quotation relate to poetry and poetics, the subjects of these blog entries?  After all, Jose Garcia Villa, in my recently published book "Poetry is," states that: "The arts do not require intellect but simply intelligence.  To be intelligent is to proceed rightly by innate perception, by intuitive sense." Thus, to write poetry (i.e., poems), say when a poet chooses a particular combination of words because they make a better poetic effect, that makes poetic sense but he is not thinking in the true sense of the term. On the
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Poetry is Not Prose - Part Two

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  In today’s Sunday New York Times is an obituary of a Romanian poet, Nina Cassian, who sought refuge in the U.S. when her poems offended the Government of President Nicolae Ceausescu. In this obituary, of all places, is found an important lesson on the state of American poetry that illustrates one of the fundamental and basic principles behind the theory of poetry of José Garcia Villa, namely, “Poetry is not prose.” It reads::               “Though she moved with apparent ease in American literary circles, reading and lecturing widely, Ms. Cassian by her own inclination remained something of an outsider. She was amused, for instance, by a practice she deemed singularly American, in which a poet giving a reading precedes each work with a précis of the very work to be read.   Parodying this practice, as The New York Times reported in 1995, Ms. Cassian liked to say:  
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Saving Poetry from its Friends - Part Three

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I happened upon an article on the website:  www.poetrynation.com, entitled "Free Verse at the Forefront of Poetic Style."  What I read there made the hair stand up on the back of my neck.  Such a conglomeration of ignorance about what good poetry is I have rarely encountered, even in this day and age of total misunderstanding about what makes poetry poetry.  (See my second blog above.) The Poetry Nation article, stripped to its essentials, says that free verse is just as valid as poems as those poems that employ poetic form.  Take this paragraph for example:  "Using poetic form should not be an exercise, most poets agree, but a calling.  A poem should naturally lend ttself to a particular form, or lack thereof.  The subject matter, theme, and tone should, in large part, dictate a poem's style."  Was the writer of this article ever taught that the medium of poetry is poetic language,
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"On Poetry" by Glyn Maxwell

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                In the December 2013 edition of The New York Review of Books, I read a review by Nick Laird of a new book on poetics: “On Poetry” by Glyn Maxwell, an English poet, playwright and novelist. The book, originally published by Oberon Books in 2012, was published in the United States by Harvard University Press in 2013.                 According to the Laird review, the book is a combination of ars poetica, a grab bag of lectures, and a teaching aid. This would be an apt characterization of my own manuscript that I expect to publish later this year, a manuscript that Harvard U. Press could find no place for publishing. Naturally, my curiosity was triggered and not only did I read the book but I read other reviews of the book and also delved somewhat into Maxwell’s poems. I was particularly interested in the latter because José Garcia Villa, the
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Saving Poetry From its Friends, Part 2

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In May 2013, I posted a blog titled: "Saving Poetry From Its Friends."  In it, I suggested that persons and institutions with nothing but good intentions of saving poetry or promoting it were in fact unknowingly conspiring to destroy poetry as high art.  I say "unknowingly" because they do not know what poetry as art is and how it is written.

What has now caused me to revisit this subject is a small article from yesterday's NewYork Times: "Levine Wins $100,000 Poetry Prize."  Philip Levine, a former poet laureate of the United States, was awarded the Wallace Stevens Award for lifetime achievement from the Academy of American Poets.  The $100,000 award is given annually for "outstanding and proven mastery of the art of poetry."  The article notes that:  "Mr Levine's collections include 'What Work is,' which won a National Book Award in 1991, and 'The Simple Truth,' which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1995" and that Levine "described his impulse to put his experiences on the assembly line [at automobile plants] into verse."  Mr. Levine is not a bad poet; he is an unpoet, and his works show that he hasn't the faintest clue as to what the elements of poetic verse are.

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The title of this blog is a statement written by the poet W.H. Auden in 1972.  Auden wrote: “I can’t understand – strictly from a hedonistic point of view – how one can enjoy writing with no form at all. If one plays a game one needs rules, otherwise there is no fun. The wildest poem has to have a firm basis in common sense, and this, I think, is the advantage of formal verse. Aside from the obvious corrective advantages, formal verse frees one from the fetters of one’s ego.” Writers – photographs by Nancy Compton, p. 28 (WW Norton & Company Ltd. 2005). In my second blog above, I state:   "The poetic process frees the poet from the fetters of his or her ego and the defensiveness of the conscious mind so that the poet can explore his or her subconscious, the contents of which are revealed even to the poet
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Saving Poetry From Its Friends.

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From time to time, I have been tempted to describe the influence of friends of poetry on poetry these days as "pernicious."  However, in my dictionary "pernicious" is defined as "that which does great harm by insidiously undermining or weakening."  Were it not for "insidiously" (the suggestion that the undermining must be done by treachery or slyness), "pernicious" would fit.  However, I must recognize that poetry's "friends" are doing what they do believing that they are saving poetry or promoting it and are not bent upon poetry's destruction.  The rub is that, because they do not know what poetry (as art) is, the effect of their promotions is to destroy the very art they think they are furthering.

Thus, I have been critical of POETRY Magazine and many other current publications that present "free verse" as poetry.  They are not the only culprits.  According to the Times article referred to below, in 2010 there were 852 degree-conferring creative writing programs on campuses across this nation.  They have done nothing to arrest the notion that "free verse" is not verse, much less poetry.   But it is not just these publications and writing programs that are undermining poetry, it is other well-intentioned promoters of what they believe is poetry.  Just this week, I read an article in Wednesday's The New York Times on "poets laureate," indicating that they are proliferating rapidly.  No longer do we just have a national "poet laureate" appointed by the Library of Congress, but now all but six states have poet laureateships and many cities and towns have followed suit.  There are many reasons why "poets laureate," merely by accepting the position, demonstrate that they are not knowledgeable about what poetry (as art) is and how it is written, among them the facts that (1) they accept to use words to convey a message on behalf of the community that appoints them and (2)  their poems are generally conveyed to their intended audiences through poetry readings


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Death of a "Formalist"

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Today's NY Times has an obituary on Daryl Hine, characterizing him as "an admired poet who adhered to classical themes, complicated formal structures and intricate rhyming patterns to explore themes of philosophy, history and his own sexuality."  The article explains that Hine "wrote more than a dozen books of poetry, using traditional forms like the sestina."  It continues to say that:  "His work . . . often put him out of step with the times, which were more apt to celebrate the raw, free-form work of poets like Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso," and that "Louis Dudek, a literary critic who focused on modern poetry, once described Mr. Hine's poetry as 'a series of extremely recherché, abstract, contrived word forms, containing oblique and ambiguous philosophical essays and meditations.'" 

Most poets and critics today tend to think of poetry as occupying two poles of a spectrum, either the "formalist" style of Hine or the "free verse" style of Ginsberg.  An assumption is made that "modern poetry" embraces the latter style.  People who hold this view are misguided.  The two poles of the spectrum are between "formalists" and the "modern poetry" style of José Garcia Villa.  Free verse is disqualified because, contrary to popular belief for the past half century, it is not poetry, not even verse, and most important is not art.


 

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