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Old 05-26-2001, 08:46 AM
Carol Taylor Carol Taylor is offline
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Lariat, if you had to choose a single defining ingredient for a poem, what would you say is the most important quality every poem should have?

Carol
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Old 05-26-2001, 04:47 PM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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Duchess, that's a good question without a simple answer. I think the best short answer is the Divine Miss Em's, "that which takes the top of my head off." But then one asks Why does it behead me? And then I say because it rings true. Well, my depositions in civil suits are truthful, so now we get to the self-serving part for this "song-like" poet. Because it rings. And by that I don't mean in the simple chiming way of John Skelton's or Tim Murphy's serial rhyming dimeters, but in the unforgettable way Auden was getting at when he described poetry as memorable speech. Milady, the shuttlecock is in your court, and I'd welcome an answer to your own impossible question.
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Old 05-26-2001, 07:29 PM
Carol Taylor Carol Taylor is offline
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Tim, I'm thinking of poetry in general, not necessarily poetry that rings or chimes or resonates or beheads the reader, so if I had to pick a single defining quality for the genre, I guess it would be compression of language. Not as in brevity, more like a crystallization process to produce a pure thought from among the peat that surrounds it.

Memorable speech is pretty close. But then not all poetry is memorable, much as we may hope it will be. Can't be meter, rhyme, imagery, lofty language, or music, because not all poetry has them either.

So back to you, or to others.

Carol
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Old 05-27-2001, 10:46 AM
Richard Wakefield Richard Wakefield is offline
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Carol and Tim:
Of course poetry and prose are more or less arbitrary divisions of a continuum, but that's not much of an answer because, in fact, one does "feel" a difference. For my money it's the degree of troping or, better yet, turning. Turning can happen in at least three dimensions: Literal language turning figurative, indicative language turning into sound, and any language turning back on itself and becoming self-referential. No doubt there are more. Our very word "verse" has an old connection to the idea of turning, and one of the things I look for in a poem is what happens at the ends of lines: does the language turn in some interesting, maybe unexpected way, or does it just go on across the break? Sure, prose can do these things (except for interesting turns at the line breaks), so it's a matter of density and, in some cases, what the writer and reader agree to call it.
Richard

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Old 05-27-2001, 12:45 PM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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Excellent points, Richard, and the fact I don't think about such things confirms R.P. Warren's wisdom in urging me to farm rather than teach English. Poetry is a mystery I might not want to see unraveled, and perhaps that's why I so like Dickenson's little definition. I also like "real toads in imaginary gardens." But for me, musicality is the main thing. I've memorized so much poetry in English and other languages, and I have to be enchanted as if by an incantation to do that effortlessly. Whether the spell be cast in classical dactylic hexameter, Anglo-Saxon heroic tetrameter, blank verse, or rhymed accentual-syllabic poetry, it's the magic stuff I remember; and that's what I want to write. But Carol, I'm with you on compression, which I always strive for. Whether in Homer or Haiku, it is essential.
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Old 05-28-2001, 11:00 AM
graywyvern graywyvern is offline
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aside from the inescapable timebound (faddish) criteria, these two seem to be permanent:

1. "yugen", or mysterious beauty; i.e. resonance with the
subconscious. (in the 18c.--often called the least poetical
time for english-- this was not expected nor sought.)

2. "calliditas", or concise aptness. some--a very few--good
poets lack this (Whitman, Jeffers) but there will always be
those who refuse them the first rank for this reason.

i would also add: "melopoeia" or phonetic coherence (for some time now, in eclipse); "phanopoeia" or visual imagery;
& "logopoeia" or conceptual originality (these are Pound's
coinages).

"poignancy" belongs in here somewhere, but since
every age draws the line between pathos & bathos differently, i can only suggest that poetry must be
about the human feelings & situations which are thought
to be worth exploring at that time. nowadays bad childhoods
& famous artists appear frequently, while epics on the founding of political dynasties would be a very hard sell.

having one of these excellences is sufficient; but having
many of them is still better.
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Old 05-29-2001, 07:17 AM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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To graywyvern's excellent list of excellences, let me add two from Chinese poetic theory as espoused in the great T'ang dynasty. 'Feng' and 'Ya' are rectitude and moral instruction for the masses. It seems to me that these are excellences we seek not in every poem, but in the body of work of a master, such as Po Chu-i, or Tu Fu, or Li Po, or Yuan Chen. It is not just for his dazzling technique but for his feng and ya that I treasure my master, Mr. Wilbur, ahead of all his contemporaries.
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Old 05-29-2001, 08:38 AM
Richard Wakefield Richard Wakefield is offline
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Tim and graywyvern:
While I agree with the need for the qualities you cite if a poem is to be great or even very good, very few of them exclude other arts: dance, painting, sculpture, and so on. It seems to me that if we're looking for an essential quality -- that is, something that is of the essence, something without which the thing can't even be the thing it is -- then we have to find a quality that has to do with language, or else we aren't distinguishing poetry from the other arts, and it has to do with verse, or else we aren't distinguishing poetry from prose.
Richard
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Old 05-30-2001, 07:41 AM
graywyvern graywyvern is offline
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but i think there's more continuity between the various arts than might appear. what we mostly lack is a body of crossover criticism.
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Old 05-30-2001, 08:15 AM
SteveWal SteveWal is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by Tim Murphy:
To graywyvern's excellent list of excellences, let me add two from Chinese poetic theory as espoused in the great T'ang dynasty. 'Feng' and 'Ya' are rectitude and moral instruction for the masses. It seems to me that these are excellences we seek not in every poem, but in the body of work of a master, such as Po Chu-i, or Tu Fu, or Li Po, or Yuan Chen. It is not just for his dazzling technique but for his feng and ya that I treasure my master, Mr. Wilbur, ahead of all his contemporaries.
Could you expand a little on what you mean by 'moral instruction for the masses'? This sounds to me very much like the poet telling ordinary mortals what to do and what to think, something I'm not at all sure a poet should be doing. It sounds not unlike a Shelleyan unacknowledged legislator to me. Poets are not sages or gurus, in my opinion, they're just ordinary human beings (or cockroaches in the case of archy ) who might possibly be able to notice a few things others don't, or at least don't feel the need to share.


------------------
Steve Waling
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