13 February 2013
Mind-Making Meter, or Breaking News
Excerpt: Pound, "A Few Don'ts by an Imagiste."
Use no superfluous word, no adjective, which does not reveal something.
Don’t use such an expression as “dim lands of peace.” It dulls the image. It mixes an abstraction with the concrete. It comes from the writer’s not realizing that the natural object is always the adequate symbol.
Go in fear of abstractions. Don’t retell in mediocre verse what has already been done in good prose. Don’t think any intelligent person is going to be deceived when you try to shirk all the difficulties of the unspeakably difficult art of good prose by chopping your composition into line lengths.
Notes on Don'ts, by Not-Pound:
Interrogate your sentences: "Why are you saying that and in that way?"
I think "superfluous words" here means "lazy" language, that is, words of the culture or convention that serve as shorthand thinking. ("Shirking" the difficulties.)
You see that these three sections say "don't be lazy." Everyone else speaks and writes as a matter of course and "of course" (they think) everyone can write or say that.
Language will always reveal you. Be mindful that it reveals you to yourself if you are listening. Rather, be hopeful it reveals you to yourself. This is the revelation that matters.
As to the last, I think most of us who pretend to poetry write prose that we chop up according to little-considered conceptions of 1. what poetry looks like, and 2. what poetry sounds like. I can come up with any number of "reasons" I decide to end a line but nearly all specious or "made up on the spot." This is why one benefits immensely when adopting a form and adhering to it. You can always break the mold and let it all spill back out when you're done.
Pay attention when you work within a meter or line length--you will begin to "think" in that cadence. Adjust the meter, adjust the mind. Then listen...the meter spoke as much as "you" did.
"Literature is news that STAYS news." Ez in ABC of Reading
That it is news to you is a good thing.
Emerson, "The Poet"
The sign and credentials of the poet are, that he announces that which no man foretold. He is the true and only doctor (teacher); he knows and tells; he is the only teller of news, for he was present and privy to the appearance which he describes. He is a beholder of ideas, and an utterer of the necessary and causal. For we do not speak now of men of poetical talents, or of industry and skill in metre, but of the true poet. …
For it is not metres, but a metre-making argument, that makes a poem, a thought so passionate and alive, that, like the spirit of a plant or an animal, it has an architecture of its own, and adorns nature with a new thing. The thought and the form are equal in the order of time, but in the order of genesis the thought is prior to the form. The poet has a new thought: he has a whole new experience to unfold; he will tell us how it was with him, and all men will be the richer in his fortune. For, the experience of each new age requires a new confession, and the world seems always waiting for its poet.
The Oven Bird
BY ROBERT FROST
There is a singer everyone has heard,
Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,
Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.
He says that leaves are old and that for flowers
Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten.
He says the early petal-fall is past
When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers
On sunny days a moment overcast;
And comes that other fall we name the fall.
He says the highway dust is over all.
The bird would cease and be as other birds
But that he knows in singing not to sing.
The question that he frames in all but words
Is what to make of a diminished thing.
Recently a poet [Frost] was quoted as saying he would as soon play tennis without a net as to write free verse. This is almost as though a zebra should say to a leopard, "I would rather have stripes than spots," or as though a leopard should inform a zebra, "I prefer spots to stripes."
The poet without imagination or folly enough to play tennis by serving and returning the ball over an invisible net may see himself as highly disciplined. There have been poets who could and did play more than one game of tennis with unseen rackets, volleying airy and fantastic balls over an insubstantial net, on a frail moonlit fabric of a court.
--Carl Sandburg (1942)
Posted by Douglas Storm