Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Marjorie Perloff
on the “well-crafted” poem

Writing in the Boston Review, Marjorie Perloff inventories the qualities of the “well-crafted” poem:

1) irregular lines of free verse, with little or no emphasis on the construction of the line itself or on what the Russian Formalists called “the word as such”; 2) prose syntax with lots of prepositional and parenthetical phrases, laced with graphic imagery or even extravagant metaphor (the sign of “poeticity”); 3) the expression of a profound thought or small epiphany, usually based on a particular memory, designating the lyric speaker as a particularly sensitive person who really feels the pain, whether of our imperialist wars in the Middle East or of late capitalism or of some personal tragedy such as the death of a loved one.
Check. Check. And check. To my mind, such stuff gives poetry a bad name. There’s an awful lot of it around.

I don’t think it’s necessary though to embrace the aesthetic of appropriation that Perloff poses as an alternative to the poetry of the “I.” Even if it were necessary, there’s a world of difference between, say, the “uncreative writing” of Kenny Goldsmith and the work of a poet such as Susan Howe. Not all appropriation need be of equal interest. A sad irony of the “well-crafted” poem is that its maker appropriates the elements of hundreds (or thousands) of other poems, without a trace of self-consciousness.

Good poets though are always appropriating, and they know it: they know that the words they use are and aren’t their own. The “true voice of feeling” (to use a phrase Perloff gives to a hypothetical opponent) is always accompanied by other voices, of the living and the dead. And je, as Arthur Rimbaud wrote, est un autre. Bob Perelman makes this point in the poem “My One Voice”:
At the sound of my voice
I spoke and, egged on
By the discrepancy, wrote
The rest out as poetry.

From Primer (Berkeley: This Press, 1981).
Two related posts
National Poetry Month
Words I can live without (craft as a verb)

comments: 1

Diane Schirf said...

My poems fit some of the above. Success!