Poetry, Formalism and Anomy
Contemporary poetics seems to have gone into a formalist regress in its unconscious insistence on distancing poetry from that socio-political ferment, which ought to ‘properly’ be one of its motors. Here one must insist, in a brief response to a reader’s queries on delineation, that ‘poetics’ is used loosely in an Aristotelian sense, and generally as a description of the art and artifices of poetic composition or reception, not as a marker of all manner of ‘artistic’ endeavours nor of philosophical disquisitions certainly, but of poetry as it is, with all its conceits; even if poetry does share certain qualities with other arts – say the strains of the lyre for example.
The Russian formalists, the better-known of them being Roman Jakobson, insisted on form rather than content – subject matter – in the appreciation of literature, be it poetry or prose – this, of course, is in the realm of literary criticism of the ultra-academic sort. If we loosely superimpose this academic/critical paradigm unto contemporary poetic apprehension or its effect on today’s reader or society we discover that poetry is more and more about form in its upsurge into the world; a world that is increasingly troubled, chaotic and distressful and therefore needs more urgently to be scrutinised within the subject matter of contemporary poetry. But form rather than substance, in terms of quality and content and a rigorous address of both, is becoming the norm.
By form here emphasis is on that over-indulgence of line arrangement, stanza types or the merely visual presentation of the ‘body’ of the poem as ‘verse’, blank, unrhymed or rhymed, to the detriment of an important and urgent socio-political address in content at this historical moment – or shall we refer to it as a-historical? We will get to the point of a ‘temporal consciousness’ shortly. In such instances one wonders where the ‘poetry’ itself resides within the poem; poetry, that is, not only in terms of visible technical structures but also as far as a loftiness of thought, a weightiness of subject and a marrying of that to form is concerned; a poetry which arrests the conscience of the age in its searching, exposing beams. Of course all that should be achieved within the purview of an appropriate choice of language and imagery, of a memorable deployment of literary tropes. In short ‘matter’ and ‘manner’ should correspond as G. H. Vallins would have it in a chapter on ‘style’ in The Best English.
Since we do not have much of today’s poetry addressing burning issues we discover that the epic as a form is dead or dying; so is the satire as a major form. It is within the epic that serious, lofty and historically germane issues could be fleshed out to a satisfactory climax; the satire would or should be the proper medium for refracting the lights of this troubled age. There is no intention here for a prescriptive or a doctrinaire approach, nevertheless a preponderance of the merely anti-climatic stringing together of words - that dead, flat, drop-jaw poetry shored up by a contrived sprinkling of some end- rhymes, which is today represented as poetry through a larger semblance of imposed ‘form’ - makes it necessary to emphasise these pointers. As an example, let us take a random, spontaneous prose sentence such as: ‘I was walking down the street to find something to eat and discovered a fine retreat of picnickers on the banks of the Thames, making merry and dancing to the light of candle flames’. It sounds like that monster called a ‘prose poem’ already due to a recurrence of certain sibilant sounds or fricatives, now let us turn it into verse thus:
I was walking down the streets
To find something to eat
And I discovered a fine retreat
Of picnickers on the banks of the Thames
Making merry and dancing to the light of candle flames
Sentinel Poetry (Online) #41
INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF POETRY & GRAPHICS...Since 2002 ISSN 1479-425X April 2006
Editor: Amatoristero Ede