Goto Thread: PreviousNext
Goto:  Message ListNew TopicSearchLog In
Verse and prose.
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 4 June, 2019 05:48AM
The discussion about poetry in verse and prose was moved here from off topic in other thread.


Knygatin wrote:

I prefer poetry in prose, to verse. I don't devalue verse, but I personally find verse more awkward to get through, and also less detailed on its canvas than prose (many argue that verse does not need to be as descriptively detailed, because it is more "exact", and that this exactness obliquely stirs up those untold images not directly painted; although from my reading experience I find it hard to agree. And also, a poet does not automatically become more exact, or a greater artist, only because he/she writes in verse form, as if that be a contracted guarantee by itself; although many in today's society seem to naively think so of themselves in a hurry of self aggrandizement.) I generally prefer the profusely nuanced subtleties in a painting or etching by Rembrandt, to the perfected economic brush strokes in a Chinese ink sheet. But some particular thoughts I agree may lend themselves better to verse; a specific insight or relative observation that is so central and important that one wants to savor it alone. I have fine permanent memories from verse poems, but since my sensibilities are mainly visual, I prefer the more painterly qualities of prose. Admitted, I am rarely if ever completely satisfied with stories, finding in them too much filler and too many stale bridges, and thinking that the prose could always potentially be so much more refined, to the point, existentially essential, and never in a single sentence relaxing from the artistically ecstatic; but that is very seldom completely so in a story - but, it could be.



Sawfish wrote:

Knygatin Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I prefer poetry
> in prose, to verse. I don't devalue verse, but
> I personally find verse more awkward to get
> through, and also less detailed on its canvas than
> prose (many argue that verse does not need to be
> as descriptively detailed, because it is more
> "exact", and that this exactness obliquely stirs
> up those untold images not directly painted;
> although from my reading experience I find it hard
> to agree. And also, a poet does not automatically
> become more exact, or a greater artist, only
> because he/she writes in verse form, as if that be
> a contracted guarantee by itself; although many in
> today's society seem to naively think so of
> themselves in a hurry of self aggrandizement.)

Quick observation here re poetry

I, too, prefer to read prose, but I'll now venture a comparison...

Poetry is ***less*** accessible to the ear/mind of he reader in the same sense that hard bop jazz, as by someone like John Coltrane, is less accessible than Bert Bacharach.

I think the world of both, but I can see why many, many more music lovers might well prefer Bacharach.

You make some very interesting and intriguing points about the relative precision of poetry and prose. I'm going to have to defer my thinking on that a bit (on a sort of road tour after having picked up my daughter after her college graduation--making a sort of sweep of the Rockies/Southwest right now), but my initial thought, subject to change, of course, is that at its finest, poetry taps an emotional, non-verbal response, in much the same way that instrumental music does. I think that pure prose (none of yer "prose-poem" shennanigans, here, bub!) has a really tough time doing this, it being more reliant on rational and *concrete* interpretation than poetry. You can get away with over-blown wording much more acceptably in poetry than in prose, which then bears the epithet "purple prose".

For examples of short evocative poetry, Shelley's "Ozymandias" is good. Similarly, and using CAS, I personally really liked the one about the submerged god who rose again from the sea bottom at the onset of a nuclear Armageddon--can't recall the name right now, and the hotel wifi is so slow that I don't want to look it up, but I'll find it later, if you want.

> I
> generally prefer the profusely nuanced subtleties
> in a painting or etching by Rembrandt, to the
> perfected economic brush strokes in a Chinese ink
> sheet. But some particular thoughts I agree may
> lend themselves better to verse; a specific
> insight or relative observation that is so central
> and important that one wants to savor it alone. I
> have fine permanent memories from verse poems, but
> since my sensibilities are mainly visual, I prefer
> the more painterly qualities of prose. Admitted, I
> am rarely if ever completely satisfied with
> stories, finding in them too much filler and too
> many stale bridges, and thinking that the prose
> could always potentially be so much more refined,
> to the point, existentially essential, and never
> in a single sentence relaxing from the
> artistically ecstatic; but that is very seldom
> completely so in a story - but, it could be.
> (See, I couldn't help myself from commentating on
> it anyhow. It is ingrained in me. :/)

Those are excellent observations, K! You're likening much of prose to an indifferently edited film. That's another thing I'll have to think through some more.


Knygatin wrote:

Thank you Sawfish. Good luck on your continued travel back to California, and drive carefully. Oh, what beautiful vistas must be there along the way!

Sawfish Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
...
> my initial
> thought, subject to change, of course, is that at
> its finest, poetry taps an emotional, non-verbal
> response, in much the same way that instrumental
> music does. I think that pure prose (none of yer
> "prose-poem" shennanigans, here, bub!) has a
> really tough time doing this, it being more
> reliant on rational and *concrete* interpretation
> than poetry. You can get away with over-blown
> wording much more acceptably in poetry than in
> prose, which then bears the epithet "purple
> prose".

I must let that simmer for a while, to consider whether prose not also can tap that kind of musical effect. Hmm ... Thinking right now of some of Arthur Machen's prose for example, or Walter de la Mare's, or (I'll be damned if I don't!) some of Lovecraft's most exalted passages. By the way, I like purple prose, like in much of Abraham Merritt's work. Purple prose may be a bit hysterical, but I still prefer overly emotional intensity to coolness. (But I don't think C. A. Smith's prose is purple, in spite of all the exotic words. He is a very precise artist!)



Dale Nelson wrote:

My 2c for now: I'm not sure how useful it is to generalize about "poetry," since almost anything one might say about "poetry" might be false of some poems, and not just poems that fail as poems because they are badly written.

I'll venture a cautious generalizations, though.

It seems to me that, for most of history, poetic composition has been addressed to the public or at least to an audience of multiple hearers and/or readers, while prose was often addressed to private persons. (I exclude from the latter statement non-literary prose such as inventories, legal documents such as contracts, public announcements from government, etc.) Poetry was intended, in some way or other, to be performed: to be recited (e.g. Beowulf), or enacted on stage (Shakespeare), or read at various other types of public occasions. The "public" might be a special one, e.g. epigrams circulated amongst a coterie. But the poet wrote for a public. Prose, however, was (with such important exceptions as I've mentioned, and others) more "intimate," e.g. letters, diaries.

People today are apt to criticize "poetry" for being "flowery." But they often misunderstand. My favorite example is Shakespeare's plays. Perhaps everyone here has been a bit bored by watching some TV or movie version of a Shakespeare play in which a character stands there, going on and on, with the other characters standing around listening with fixed expressions on their faces, etc. The camera zooms in on the actor's face so as to help to convey the deep feeling with which the character is speaking. But how tiresome, really, this is for the viewer.

The conventions of cinema and TV work against Shakespearean drama. Shakespeare was not writing for our modern media, with their conventions of close-ups of the faces of actors. He wrote for the Elizabethan-Jacobean stage, whose audiences could not see the actor's faces from close up. Those stages had fairly minimal props, and the performance was likely to be in the afternoon under the sky. This all meant, then, that the poetry had to do most of the work of evoking emotion, intention, atmospheric conditions, the appearance of a forest or of castle ramparts, and so on.

In other words, the "flowery" quality of much poetry is actually a reflection of the confidence of a poet and his or her audience in the ability of words to convey serious thought, historical gravity, the experience of the soul. But for us to enjoy it, we need to put aside our habits that have been shaped by TV and movies, and, before them by the way, by the approach of the naturalistic theater. (Shakespeare wrote for the "theater-in-the-round" such as the Globe. Someone like Ibsen wrote for the modern "picture-frame" theater in which there is an attempt at creating the illusion that we are watching "real life" going on, as it were looking into someone's house with the wall removed.)

Much poetry, then, may be hard for us until we stop wanting it to fit into the conventions we are used to.

If any of this is of interest, S. L. Bethell's Shakespeare and the Popular Dramatic Tradition may be warmly recommended.

There's one other element regarding poetry that I haven't mentioned yet, and that's the difficulty of much modern poetry. Perhaps sometimes in part in reaction to the emergence of popular media such as radio/wireless, much poetry did become, in the 20th century rather "private" and even hermetic. But the problem with Eliot's "Waste Land," for example, was not that of "floweriness." In fact, well before the advent of radio, but still in modern times, you had the development of the novel. Here was something written in prose that attracted a wide audience. It might be read privately, but often novels were read in the family group. Note that this factor can help us to understand what Dickens was up to. He often wrote "theatrically," and some readers (not this one) object to what they think they would find in his prose -- though often they haven't read very much of it.

Even the hearthside folktale can show a poetic quality, not just in the story, but in the repetitions that may sometimes put off people who see them on the printed page to be read privately. But originally these stories were likely to be "performed," and therefore it is not surprising that they show poetic qualities, such as repetitions -- "And he walked far, and farther than far, until he came to..."

Dale Nelson



Sawfish wrote:

This will be a fun discussion, K!

I'm going to let it sit on the back burner for a while--at the Grand Canyon right now--but am a fan of de la Mar, and I want to leave you with this refinement of my statement on prose vs poetry: it is not an exclusionary case, where one cannot have a rationally communicative poem, nor an evocative piece of prose, but I am saying that should one wish to do pure evocative creation, it might well be done best as poetry, since, as I say, when you get to expressing something like Keats' "The Second Coming"

en.wikipedia.org

prose gets downright silly-sounding.

CAS does prose poems. I'll try to find one and we can see why it's referred to as a prose poem and not an other type of short prose.

But, as always, I could be wrong... ;^)

Hi, Dale.

As regards modern long form narrative poetry that is aimed at Shakespeare's intended "popular market", have you ever read Vikram Seth's "The Golden Gate"?

en.wikipedia.org

This is a very playful and absorbing read. A lot of the subject seems dated (early expansion of the Silicon Valley tech world as the means of living, and the subsequent romantic foibles of the central characters.

Very playful! Like watching an Eric Roemer film.

Sawfish


Dale Nelson wrote:

I've heard of Seth's book, never read it. In turn, I'll ask if you have heard of Martyn Skinner: The Return of Arthur, etc.?

apilgriminnarnia.com

As you can see from the article I've linked above, I quite liked that.

Skinner also wrote a mock-heroic tiny-fairies poem, Sir Elfadore and Mabyna, kind of a curiosity:

apilgriminnarnia.com

Re: Verse and prose.
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 4 June, 2019 05:52AM
I wish to distinguish between "poetry" and "verse". Poetry, or the poetic, is a broader term than verse, because it applies to more artistic expressions than just verse; for example, "poetic" or "poetry" is used to describe qualities in music, painting, film, and prose. On the other hand, verse, in itself, doesn't necessarily mean genuine poetic quality.

The Defense of Poesy by Sir Philip Sidney and A Defense of Poetry by P. B. Shelley, which I read a few years ago, are both good works on the topic, Sidney's being the superior. But I have not yet read The Poetic Principle by E. A. Poe.

Re: Verse and prose.
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 4 June, 2019 09:38AM
I agree that it's important to precisely define the topic we wish to discuss. I am also pleased with the three reference works you listed. I'll read them soon.

BTW, as regards the broader use of the term "poetic" to imply the ephemeral qualities of poetry as they appear in other artistic media, I got royally fried on this forum some years ago for using the term "Manichaean" in the broader sense to describe a dualistic belief in good vs evil, while my interlocutor insisted that the character to whom I attributed this quality, was not, himself, an adherent of the Manichaean heresy.

This discussion broke down at that point.

It's good to get this cleared up early, so as to avoid inviting priggery.

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: Verse and prose.
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 4 June, 2019 11:23AM
I recommend Owen Barfield's Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning. It discusses poetic imagination, contrasting it with the modern "impulse to reduce the specifically human to a mechanical or animal regularity" (p. 23). Another good book is George Rostrevor Hamilton's The Tell-Tale Article, which Barfield recommends, a readable criticism of much modern poetry.

I would like to quote a quotation from Santayana, taken from Barfield's book. It's worth considering carefully.

"Men are habitually insensible to beauty. Tomes of aesthetic criticism hang on [just] a few moments of real delight and intuition. It is in rare and scattered instants that beauty smiles even on her adorers, who are reduced for habitual comfort to remembering her past favours. An aesthetic glow may pervade experience, but that circumstance is seldom remarked; it figures only as an influence working subterraneously on thoughts and judgements which in themselves take a cognitive or practical direction. Only when the aesthetic ingredient becomes predominant do we exclaim, 'How beautiful!' Ordinary the pleasures which formal perception gives remain an undistinguished part of our comfort or curiosity.

"Taste is formed in those moments when aesthetic emotion is massive and distinct; preferences then grow conscious, judgements then put into words will reverberate through calmer hours; they will constitute prejudices, habits of apperception, secret standards for all other beauties. A period of life in which such intuitions have been frequent may amass tastes and ideals sufficient for the rest of our days. Youth in these matters governs maturity, and while men may develop their early impressions more systematically and find confirmation of them in various quarters, they will seldom look at the world afresh or use new categories in deciphering it. Half our standards come from our first masters, and the other half from our first loves. Never being so deeply stirred again, we remain persuaded that no objects save those we then discovered can have a true sublimity....Thus the volume and intensity of some appreciations, especially when nothing of the kind has preceded, makes them authoritative over our subsequent judgements. On those warm moments hang all our cold systematic opinion; and while the latter fill our days and shape our careers it is only the former that are crucial and alive" (pp. 53-54).

I'm not sure I agree with all of this, but I do take seriously the author's earnest sense of the importance of early aesthetic (poetic) experience. And if he's anything like right, then it is a horrible thing that a young person, hungry to read great works, might start an English degree, and find himself or herself subjected to indoctrination in the various professors' pet literary theories -- feminism, queer theory, postcolonialism, Marxism, etc. "The hungry sheep look up and are not fed." Instead, students need to read the standard works and be taught by teachers who love those works, teachers who still feel that those works are alive and important. Barfield is a "teacher" like that, and so his book is worthy of your attention. Poets he seems particularly to esteem include Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, Blake, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, de la Mare -- so you can see that he leans towards (some of) the Romantics. May there be many such; and from the attitudes such as I encountered from a feminist professor, who dismissed a long list of wonderful classic literary works as "white male patriarchy," may students be protected. (By the way, this professor was not yet 30 when she said this. She could not possibly have read all of the works in the multi-page list, and my bet is that she had read rather few of them; but she was still able, it seems, to dismiss them thus.)



Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 4 Jun 19 | 11:37AM by Dale Nelson.

Re: Verse and prose.
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 4 June, 2019 01:19PM
Perhaps I should wait to post anything more till people have had more chance to respond to posts, including mine, above. But I'm going to throw out something here about memory.

Surely there is an intimate connection between traditional (let's say pre-20th-century) poetry and acts of memorization and recitation. I suspect that some of those of our forbears who cultivated the Art of Memory possessed capacities we would hardly find credible. (Cf. Frances Yates' book The Art of Memory.)

Conversely, the art of memory is really on the ropes in our time. Author Julia Shaw has written a book called The Memory Illusion, which, reportedly, is based on lab studies. From a review:

----Shaw disposes of an impressive number of outright myths, always citing the laboratory science and adducing cases. In brief: despite all the confident claims one sometimes hears, no one can ‘remember’ being born or indeed anything much before about four or five years old, as the brain does not physically develop its memory function until then. It seems no one can actually remember ‘the good old days’ with any accuracy. There is no such thing as a ‘photographic memory’ so ignore any ads that claim to teach you how to develop one. Ditto for ‘learn while you sleep’ applications. Ditto for ‘mental sport applications’ claiming to make you ‘smarter’; they will make you dumber. Traumatic memories are highly questionable, and claims need to be handled with extreme care. ‘Multi-tasking’, literally understood, is not possible for the human brain as the short-term memory can handle only limited amounts of information at any one time. Above all, the brain is highly vulnerable to emotional ‘flooding’ or contamination from the high emotions of others (as anyone attending a local ball game will attest from their own experience)," etc.----

But please -- let it be remembered that Shaw is talking about modern people like us. She pretty much has to, if her book is focused on lab studies.

But what if -- as I suspect -- we are abnormal, as against a human norm that would embrace centuries?

There is, as it were, a war against memory going on in our time.

1.We are terribly distracted, especially in the digital era, but we were back in the radio and TV era too. It's just worse and worse.
2.John Dewey's circa 1900 educational notions remain influential in those cloaca of thought, the colleges of education. Dewey was opposed to "rote learning," instead holding to a technocratic notion of the acquisition of skills, or so I understand. Thus any kid who goes through the public schools probably has been cheated of something that was a normal part of growing up, the laying-down of memorized motor skills (the schools want everyone to be white collar) and, notably, the learning of rhymes, songs, lists, folktales, local traditions (a modern education typically conditions you to feel at home in an airport and an office cubicle as a "global citizen" rather than a person with a locality), etc. The "progressive" valuation of youth and the depreciation of the aged goes along with this.
3.Multiculturalism and liberal immigration work against memory on a communal level. However defensible they might be (I don't want to get into that here) on other grounds, they are likely to be destructive as relating to memory. If it's Angela Merkel or Viktor Orbán who's going to set policy, probably it's Viktor Orbán who's going to value poetry more. NB: Poetry is not some Platonic ideal. It is intimately connected with a particular language. (Note: I am thinking more of European countries here than of the US, which is an unusual case.)
4.The prevalence of therapy works against memory in that immediate feelings of being adjusted are prized. I don't want to wish misery on anyone (unless it's necessary to do them good somehow), but "therapy" does, I think, tend to discourage the cultivation of memory. "Be in the moment!"

So, if there is a connection between poetry and memory, our time is one that will tend in an antipoetic direction.

And...

“The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” — Milan Kundera



Edited 4 time(s). Last edit at 4 Jun 19 | 01:40PM by Dale Nelson.

Re: Verse and prose.
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 4 June, 2019 01:28PM
Dale,

Very thought-provoking quote from Santayana; on my first reading of it I feel that he's onto the "right" track--that he is describing the nuts-and-bolts of how the aesthetic penetrates individual consciousness, and how thereby personal tastes/preferences are formed. As you imply, they may be more to it than that which was in the quotation, but I do feel that the mechanisms he describes are likely valid.

Amusing anecdote about the young woman professor! Me, all I care about is: does the work stand on its own merit, as judged by--ahem!--me, and for my own pleasure and enjoyment. I tend not to see literary work as directly instructive (hah! as did some of my professors in the late/mid 60s!), but rather, thought-provoking, at best. E.g. Orwell's Animal Farm. To me, an allegory like this works legitimately not so much to show that totalitarianism is "bad", but more like...

Did the situation(s) described in the novel resonate with anything within your experience? If so, do the mechanisms described hold as essentially accurate and valid as compared to reality? If so, this implies that the same situation that's described exists in your life environment, and if true, are you satisfied with this? If not, what are you prepared to do about it over the long run?

To me, this isn't a list of questions with *correct* answers ("Hell no! I HATE fascism and oppose it with all my heart!!!"), but more a sort of personality test--it may well be that the system found in Animal Farm fits your needs quite well--and that's valid.

So now I've drifted--again...

I earlier mentioned Seth's modern novel-length poem to give one example of long-form poetry as the genre survives today. In my opinion you won't see much more of this, for reasons that you mentioned, earlier, but that's the evolutionary fate of many art forms. Story-telling narrative, for example. This was valid since time immemorial (and I suspect that it may border closely on poetry, in richness of expression), but I, for one, must confess to finding screen narratives superior to live stage narratives, given that they're of the same artistic quality. I'm a product of the age, it seems.

Too, consider what the microphone did for the art of song; a parallel to what the camera did for acting, if you think about it.

Great discussion, Dale and K!

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: Verse and prose.
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 5 June, 2019 01:31AM
Shakespeare perhaps is the most clear example of the worth of verse? With his incredible insights into existential wisdom, captured in a few phrases, and so eternalized like little glittering jewels.

Admitted, I don't read much verse, because as I said before my sensibilities are in a different direction. But I do it occasionally, and I think my favorite poem ever is Wordsworth's I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud. I guess this is the simple man's poetry, but I like it best when I am simply brought back to Nature, without too much intellectualism, and often think of this poem when I reflect upon the clockwork of the macrocosm and microcosm and how it all holds together and relates harmoniously. In this perspective I don't share Lovecraft's gloomy materialistic outlook on the meaningless chaos of the Universe; although I think he was two-sided in this, depending on his mood of identification, whether he was locked inside his material helpless body being tossed through the mad grim abysses between the stars, or whether his mind was soaring beyond his body and seeing the poetic beauty of all around him; he was very accomplished at doing both. Similarly so with C. A. Smith, but he perhaps stretching it to even more extreme contrasts. Anyway, Wordsworth's little poem is a great uplifting support when feeling gloomy; it is possible to step onto this train going in the right direction. Very functional.

Re: Verse and prose.
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 8 June, 2019 06:20PM
Not certain if the qualities of poetry and ecstasy could be called to be equal. But in his book Hieroglyphics Machen holds that fine literature, and Art, needs to have the quality of ecstasy. Otherwise it is just plain craft - possibly very skillfully done craft, serving a purpose - but it is not Art.

By the way, alongside Lovecraft, I think Machen is the best writer I know of at depicting decaying old houses. The beginning of Hieroglyphics portrays a wonderfully creepy Victorian house, with winding stairs and hidden nooks, and wallpaper a color of which surely no one uses today.

Re: Verse and prose.
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 10 June, 2019 04:32PM
If I may quote myself, from a piece at the Wormwoodiana blog:

Poetic Knowledge in an Age of Quantification
A character in one of Arthur Machen’s stories quotes a saying: “‘In every grain of wheat there lies hidden the soul of a star.’”
The saying isn’t expounded and doesn’t contribute in an obvious way to the resolution of the story’s plot, but I think that it is worth considering in terms of possible reader responses.
It will immediately impress itself on some readers as a true statement, which is not to say it is “factual.” Something true is indicated by it. It suggests something, hints at something, points at something, that is true -- even though the “soul of a star” probably doesn’t lie hidden in “every grain of wheat”; and if it does, science will never observe it. Even so, it doesn’t strike this first group of readers as a day-dreamy, sentimental, unreal notion, but as something pointing to a genuine category of real knowledge that may be called poetic knowledge. Such readers desire to possess and to cultivate whatever human faculty it is that is able to apprehend such statements as meaningful.
For a second group of readers the saying will contribute, in context, to a quality of quaint but vague charm. The saying will have aesthetic significance, but many of these readers may adhere to the common view that aesthetics and ideas of the beautiful are matters of social construction, fashion, personal taste, and so on – pleasant, perhaps, but not a matter of authentic importance except when associated with more obvious public goods such as relaxation. We all need relaxation so that we can work efficiently. Studies have measured the different outcomes between groups that relax and those that don’t. They have shown that productivity increases when workers take time to relax. So something that helps people relax, such as stopping and smelling the roses, is justifiable.
For a third group of readers the saying is nonsensical, essentially no different from a statement such as “In every carburetor the wings of a moth are calculating taxation increments.”

[wormwoodiana.blogspot.com]



Sorry, only registered users may post in this forum.
Top of Page