24 August 2009

The Artist's Words

"The poems in this book are written some in Running Rhythm, the common rhythm in English use, some in Sprung Rhythm, and some in a mixture of the two. And those in the common rhythm are some counterpointed, some not."
-Gerard Manley Hopkins, first paragraph of the Author's Preface to a collection of poems.

"Is all verse poetry or all poetry verse? - Depends on definitions of both. Poetry is speech framed for contemplation of the mind by the way of hearing or speech framed to be heard for its own sake and interest even over and above its interest of meaning. Some matter and meaning is essential to it but only as an element necessary to support and employ the shape which is contemplated for its own sake."
-Gerard Manley Hopkins, from "Poetry and Verse"

What struck me about the first paragraph was the pure discussion of form and technique. It is an achingly dull 300-400 words describing the two types of verse. however, the man is clearly fascinated by these two forms, and the impact that these forms of verse have on the sound of the language. He goes on to speak of content or meaning, and that it is secondary to the form. This is supported by Edgar Allen Poe:

"Every poem, it is said, should inculcate a moral; and by this moral is the poetical merit of the work to be adjudged… We have taken into our heads that to write a poem simply for the poem’s sake, and to acknowledge such to have been our design, would be to confess ourselves radically wanting in true Poetic dignity and force: - but the simple fact is, that, would we but permit ourselves to look into our own souls, we should immediately there discover that under the sun there neither exists nor can exist any work more thoroughly dignified – more supremely noble than this very poem – this poem per se – this poem which is a poem and nothing more – this poem written solely for the poem’s sake."
-Edgar Allen Poe, The Poetic Principle

Poe, whose content is one of the great contemplative thinkers of the language, herein seems to discount the importance of the narrative. Although I have also argued elsewhere that the meaning of Poe's words had to do more with the need for a lesson, and that the argument is for a level of ambiguity. But Poe's words echo Hopkins' - that there is merit in the form of the poem. Indeed, the music of "never more" etches that poem deep into our consciences, and without it we would never recall it.

The reason for this discussion of poetic form is to illuminate how artists discuss their own work. There is a rare discussion of the origins of an image, the meaning of a poem. More frequently, the discussion devolves upon the pragmatic, the process of making, the technique.

“In my own case, the process is more or less unvarying. I begin with the glimpse of a form, a kind of remote island, which will eventually be a story or a poem. I see the end and I see the beginning, but not what is in between. That is gradually revealed to me, when the stars are propitious. More than once I have to retrace my steps by way of the shadows. The notion of art as compromise is a simplification, for no one knows entirely what he is doing.”
-Jorge Luis Borges