Literarisches Events (in and around Lawrence KS)

  • PATRICIA LOCKWOOD. Lawrence. Thursday, September 11, 7:00 p.m., Spooner Hall, KU Campus.
  • PATRICIA LOCKWOOD. Lawrence. Friday, September 19, 7:00 p.m. Lawrence Public Library. Sponsored by Raven Bookstore.
  • DENNIS ETZEL, JR. & RACHEL CROSS. Lawrence. Thursday, September 25, 7:00 p.m., Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.
  • TONY TRIGILIO. Lawrence. Thursday, Oct. 2, 4:00 p.m., English Room, Kansas Union, KU Campus. FREE.
  • CALEB PUCKETT & JUSTIN RUNGE. Lawrence. Thursday, October 16, 7:00 p.m., Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.
  • BEN LERNER. Kansas City, MO. Thursday, October 23, 7:00 p.m., Epperson Auditorium, Vanderslice Hall on the KCAI campus, 4415 Warwick Blvd.
  • KRISTIN LOCKRIDGE & ROBERT DAY. Lawrence. Thursday, December 4, 7:00 p.m., Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Putting into/ Words

Henry Gould made the following comment on the post of two days ago, and I'm going to take the liberty of moving it (lifting it?) to visibility in the "main page" of this blog, b/c it raises an important point of view: "Poet's [sic] aren't putting history into poems because they have a special perspective on events (the underside, the inside, or...). They put history in poems because the medium, the style, the form of poetry charges the history-telling with its own kinds of intensity. The effort to seek a powerful or beautiful language-in-its-own-right, or dramatic form (plot), is a way of underlining - adding force & interest - to whatever the speaker is trying to convey."

My post of yesterday may have already responded to this, in a roundabout way. I'm not willing to say poets do or should treat history all in one way or another. Ed Sanders seems to me like the sort of poet Henry describes (as I tried lamely to indicate below). There's also an interesting long poem by Daniel Hoffman, Brotherly Love, re: the founding of Pennsylvania, that assumes a rather positivist view of historical fact, and presents it in interesting language. And a lot of the "poetry of witness" does the same thing - and often lifts things into visibility that the reporters, historians, etc. wouldn't touch.

But I guess it really matters how you think about history per se. Is "it" something written in the history books already - is the "history" separable from the "telling" - so that, say, writing a poem about William Penn is an artistic presentation of something that already exists elsewhere? Or does the making of the poem change the status of the tale? When Longfellow predicts the disapperance of the natives in "Song of Hiawatha," or Cullen, in "The Prairies," the idea becomes - well, poetic. Elevated. True.

Is "Book of the Dead" or "Mediterranean" simply a different treatment of the same material Rukeyser presented in her reportage? I think that poetry can create a different point of view than that of the historian or reporter - one with a different set of effects and implications; that in other words, form/content is a false dichotomy. Or, said another way, that genres (and media) presume their own epistemologies.

Video, for instance, is truer than words nowadays. Poetry isn't true unless it tells you what you think it's reminding you that you already know.

But Henry might be getting to the heart of my idea of historical poetry as elegy, that I've mentioned before. Maybe it's only an elegy if you're not postivistic about it - that is, if you think you can never really "convey" it (or own it, perhaps). Sanders thinks that you can, and he is a happy warrior. And by the same token, maybe those other poets I mention below are just as despairing or nihilistic as the most radical dadaiste - for the opposite reason. Or just sad.

"The point is not to interpret history, the point is ----"

Aw, shoot, I forget the rest . . .


Henry Gould said...

Thanks for taking up my comment, Joseph. We certainly share an interest in the poetry/history conundrum.

Poetry is like the civilian at the official meeting, piping up at the back of the room. My hero, the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam, was a bundle of contradictions on the score of his own poetics - on the one hand, he exalted classicism, form & civilization - but on the other hand he always emphasized poetry's essential RAWNESS - its expressive & very personal human freedom.

This attitude resulted in his writing perhaps the most intense & furiously brave 10 lines of verse of the 20th century - his satire on Stalin - which basically got him killed in the gulag. This, too, was history.

If the poet is the recipient of a gift - the gift of verbal harmony - what does he or she do with it?

I think we have to keep in mind that history-writing is not done in a vacuum : it's informed & shaped by the history-writer's philosophy, worldview, knowledge, values, personal history & social background. & I don't believe that North American "history-poetry" is necessarily elegiac : the elegiac or despairing attitude is a reflection of a particular worldview. As I see it, the more one examines human history - in relation both to real personal experience and to the long span of natural, universal or cosmic "history" - the more mysterious and complex it gets.

So if we think of Mandelstam's fierce and independent attitude - his notion of the raw freedom of poetic speech - and we think, say, of Shakespeare or Spenser or Milton or Dante or Homer or Blake or Chaucer's deep-long philosophical visions - setting history in a cosmic perspective... well, these are two poles of poetic making which include history.

There is a lot of material there for poetry to work with...

Henry Gould said...

p.s. Joseph, your statement here - "I think that poetry can create a different point of view than that of the historian or reporter - one with a different set of effects and implications; that in other words, form/content is a false dichotomy."

- this reminds me again of Giambattista Vico, the Italian philosopher James Joyce took a great interest in... who developed a kind of "poetic" theory of human history - history as the consequence of, the evolution of the human imagination...

Wallace Stevens :

"The whole race is a poet that writes down
The eccentric propositions of its fate."

a.k.a. "Joe" said...

Thanks for the excellent and eloquent comments, Henry. Actually, I agree with everything in your first comment (maybe up to the cosmic part). I suspect (as so often happens) we're really saying similar things.

And noone has ever compared me to Vico - as a writer, I say thanks!
Didn't he define "poetic" rather broadly - in its Greek sense of "making" - as in "making history"?