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Old 09-15-2017, 03:10 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is online now
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Hi Matt,

That's my favorite Geoffrey Hill poem. Like the Wallace Stevens I posted earlier, I find it quite specific, though the opening sentence is paratactic and lacks a verb. The two are often called difficult, which is perhaps not the same thing as obscure. Aaron N makes a nice point about beauty before understanding, and since I think many Americans won't know Hill, it seemed worth posting a short poem of his which exemplifies that for me. French has an expression tiré par les cheveux, or sophistical perhaps, which a teacher I knew called capillotracté. That is when art loses me: sophomoric obscurity, obscurity for its own sake. Necessary obscurity doesn’t bug me – thus, The Critique of Pure Reason, for instance, as opposed to, say, Jung or Hegel, who seem to like showing off or confusing people. As we all know, it takes a lot of work to be simple. But being as simple as possible is a worthy goal in art as in science.

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Old 09-15-2017, 04:40 PM
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Quincy Lehr Quincy Lehr is offline
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To what extent should music be melodic? To what extent should painting be representational? And perhaps related, perhaps distinct, to what extent should art cater to my understanding of things/cultural background/etc.? And by "my," I mean of or pertaining to Quincy Lehr. My intent isn't snarkiness at all--regarding my own tastes, there are answers that gainful employment precludes describing, much less defending at length at the moment. Regarding the general question, it depends whether one is Edward Lear vs. Andre Breton vs. Percy Shelley, say.

(And I quite like Hegel as a stylist--and the dialectic is a key concept. It really is.)

Last edited by Quincy Lehr; 09-15-2017 at 04:42 PM.
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Old 09-15-2017, 05:05 PM
Matt Q Matt Q is offline
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Thanks John,

I asked because it seemed pretty straightforward to me, pretty clear what was going on. I guess some of the references might be more obscure to non-Brits: that Offa was king of Mercia in the 8th century, and that the M5 is a major motorway that runs through same territory and so on. I'm not even sure I'd call it a difficult poem. A good one though. And perhaps more complicated in the context of the whole series.



Last edited by Matt Q; 09-15-2017 at 05:08 PM.
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Old 09-15-2017, 05:26 PM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Location: England
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I think...


I'm not sure yet

It's a very good question. I'll be back.
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Old 09-15-2017, 07:01 PM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Location: England
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I wrote something very long and dull, but deleted it. It boils down to this: I think every poem deserves to be read at least six times. If it hasn't moved/grabbed me after that, then I move on. There are many many poems I don't 'understand' that I love. Obscurity is not erudition, though. Obscurity can be the pulsing of the heart, not quite believing what it's saying. Erudition can be just showing off....
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Old 09-15-2017, 07:10 PM
Erik Olson Erik Olson is offline
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Originally Posted by Matt Q View Post
I asked because it seemed pretty straightforward to me, pretty clear what was going on. I guess some of the references might be more obscure to non-Brits...
I was not wholly ignorant as to the MI5 being some highway or motorway in the UK. But supposing I was, it certainly sounds a lot like the major highways I have heard frequently referenced. Like the I-5, the main Interstate main artery that parallels the Pacific from the base of California to Canada. There is an M-I5 in Michigan, for instance. But above all, it is the context that enforces that this is a highway or motorway, when we consider it in the list of other apparently landmark constructions with capital letters
architect of... rampart and ditch, the citadel... Welsh Bridge and the Iron Bridge: contractor to the desirable new estates...’
To say nothing of what Google could tell one.
In short, I did not find this one either difficult or obscure myself. At least not obscure in that I knew a Motorway was being referenced, though I have never driven on it; or a prominent Bridge, though I had never been there myself. That be as it may, I agreed with Offa at the end
‘I liked that,’ said Offa, ‘sing it again.’

Last edited by Erik Olson; 09-15-2017 at 07:43 PM.
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Old 09-15-2017, 07:19 PM
Andrew Szilvasy Andrew Szilvasy is offline
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Originally Posted by Aaron Novick View Post
I may be an oddity in that I keep my heart in my head rather than in my chest, but I find perplexity to be a source of very strong emotions of all valences. And philosophy begins in perplexity, after all...
I'm with you. I was away for a few days with limited internet, but you, Roger, and Quincy said all I would want to say in the earlier posts, and this post in particular hits at a mainline of my poetic thinking. I know wonderful poets who put emotion first, but I also know wonderful poets who don't. By and large, I see myself in the latter camp. Emotion may be there, but it part of the effect rather than the purpose by itself.
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Old 09-16-2017, 05:38 PM
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Gail White Gail White is offline
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Personally, I never get very far into any poem that starts with a phrase like "Complacencies of the peignoir" because I know the pretentiousness is not going to let up.
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Old 09-17-2017, 10:59 AM
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Michael Ferris Michael Ferris is offline
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Not to derail Max’s thread, but Quincy poses fascinating questions. It would be fun (I think) to have a thread on these sometime if we could stay out of political arguments (which I don’t think are such fun -- and I don't mean anything here to be politically provocative). I have nothing to lose professionally from answering, or personally, I hope, so I’d venture this for the nonce:

Painting does not need to be representational. But why can I appreciate late de Kooning, and Rothko and Still, but Twombly and Newman and Pollock leave me pretty cold? Related questions: why do I love Marina Abramovic’s performance art, but most conceptual art elicits a ‘meh’ from me? Why do I adore Warhol, but not Rauschenberg?

Music does not need to be melodic -- I love e.g., Philip Glass. But, for me to like polyphonic music, it seems it must obey the precepts of harmony to some degree. That’s why I dislike serialism or 12-tonal music: to me it is ugly at a 'visceral' level, and the epitome of intellect whelming feeling or emotion in art: indeed, I see it as a predominantly intellectual exercise. BTW Mann’s Doctor Faustus includes his description of the composition process. Is there something innate or 'objective' in the rules of harmony, or are they only learned? I don’t know. It’s a great question. I wonder, though, ex ante, if the question can be finally answered: we’re still arguing in philosophy about whether mathematical objects have 'real' or only 'ideal' existence. But I’m not nearly well-read enough in musical theory (musical philosophy?) to begin to answer the question. And to quote the Eagles: the more I know, it seems the less I understand...

As an aside, I prize JS Bach above all others, and I’m caught on this fugue in B minor from the Well-Tempered Clavier. It seems to me that Bach here anticipates Schoenberg – but he resolves into passages of harmony that are (for me) ecstatic.

Forgive me, Max! I hope this detour isn’t just a tl;dr.

Last edited by Michael Ferris; 09-19-2017 at 07:42 PM. Reason: style; being preciser
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Old 09-17-2017, 12:48 PM
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Orwn Acra Orwn Acra is offline
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Thanks for the Bach, Michael. These prophetic moments are usually fascinating, even if accidental (by which I mean, one can say Bach anticipated Schoenberg only because Schoenberg later existed; or as Borges wrote: "every writer creates his own precursors"). Anyway, in Beethoven's last piano sonata there is a section that anticipates ragtime (at the 16 minute mark here).
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