Wednesday, October 22, 2008

False dichotomy

It is hard to think about poetry or writing with the white noise of politics turned up louder and louder in the background.  The ups! the downs!  My call is that, for Americans, politics is yet another professional sports league.  The maps!  The weird suppression of the maps!  The states that cannot possibly be competitive anymore that are still listed as 'toss-ups'!  The bizarre phenomenon of the 'pink' state.  (I have a friend who lives in a pink state who is slow to engage me in conversation, possibly because he is embarrassed to live in a pink state, who knows?)

I am writing an essay--which has nothing to do with 'pink' states, nothing to do with politics.  But I am writing an essay, and I am happy.  I still feel this tug to write poems and continue to do so, but, lately, exploring the permutations and by-ways of other uses of language has been calling out to me.  In my day job, I clean up sentences for other people, tidy, straighten, do a chiropractic adjustment of grammar and punctuation.  I standardize, putting all the sentences in similar tonal outfits.  I make thoughts appear professional and serious.  

This can be entertaining, but it can also be dull.  Exploring the way rhetorically neutral sentences are put together (yes! we are non-partisan) leads inevitably to a fascination with finding the pressure points of sentences: their soft spots, their fault lines.  And to a fascination with making boring sentences interesting.  If possible, and it is not always possible.  

Is poetry a matter of the sentence or the line?  It depends, perhaps, on how you define 'sentence.'  Is a sentence a grammatically complete thought?  A unit of speech with syntactical integrity?  Is a verbal construction that bends and twists Strunk & White or takes liberty with syntax a sentence?  If the action of a sentence is to enlarge a thought, yet draw it to a close, can a sentence resist closure the way a line can?  What does a line do?  It breaks, it suspends.  Quite possibly it signals the possibility of rhyme.  Must it, by design, flout the expectations of a sentence?  Or must it conform?

I am writing an essay, and I am happy.  I am trying to figure out what else a sentence can do, or what happens if the line is taken out of play.  Is poetry as an act of utterance limitless?  Or are there limits to what a poem can express?  If a poem relies on a reader's expectation of what a poem should or could be, then, it seems, there are limits.  But if an essay (with its unit the sentence, rather than the line) can lull a reader into a false sense of complacency or acceptance, then perhaps it can be a more open structure than a poem.  

Digressive narrative.  That is what I am thinking as I am writing my essay.  And that's something that I learned from a poet. 

I am writing my essay, and I am happy because it has nothing to do with politics, which will, of necessity, have a finale and an end, one of two options.  False dichotomy, my lit grad school advisory might have said--but he said that about so much.  False dichotomy.  

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

The essay -- there's something so beautiful and simple about it. I just picked up the Best American Essays of 2008--so much richness and good writing. Your material begs to be written in essay form. Good luck!