Friday, September 08, 2006

A theme, a theme, I sense a theme

Just finished reading the introduction to Billy Collins' edition of Best American Poetry (2006), which has been printed in The Writer's Chronicle. After flagellating contemporary poets for many, many paragraphs (so much for that nice guy image) for various failings: not having a human voice, lack of coordinates to enable point of entry, consisting primarily of memories of family members, lack of linguistic pleasure, obsession with the 'loco-descriptive' (the perception/reaction mode popularized by the Romantics, according to Collins)--well, after all of that, he gets to a place I recognize:

"But the primary reason for reading is pleasure, and, dry as it sounds to say so, the primary source of poetic pleasure is form. The content of a poem may be personal to the point of narcissism, self-involved to the point of autism, but its form--that is, any feature that gives the poem cohesion and keeps it from drifting into chaos--is communal, inclusive, even cordial."

More talk of pleasure and reading. This I like. And the connection of pleasure and form, which is where I'm finding pleasure in my own writing at the moment. I don't mean pleasure in formalism--I feel stymied by formalism because it seems, too often, to be about content. Except maybe in Bishop and Lowell. The trick of making the form come alive in and of itself, and not just turning standard forms into a vehicle for carrying the poem's ideas forward, is a difficult trick to master. And not essential. But finding the linguistic, rhythmic, thematic, semantic, repetitive bits that drive the energy of the poem forward is about making an engine of form.

Collins also says the following, which I think carries some weight of truth:

"But whether a poem is casually patterned or set in the locked and fully upright position, it can be said that all good poetry is formal poetry. Even the lest formally attired poem, if mindfully composed, will set up 'frameworks of expectation,' in John Hollander's words. Such poems carry us forward through a series of steps that lead--or ironically fail to lead--to some revelation, a notion, or even an angle of vision that was not possible before that poem was written. . . . And besides the rhythm of the line, which sometimes can be scanned and identified, there is the less obvious rhythm of the whole poem, the pacing of its parts, the gradual release of its energy, its rhetorical pulsations."

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