Today Starts the Day

When I make a serious study of poetry, that is! I am using Laurence Perrine’s Sound and Sense: An Introduction to Poetry Eleventh Edition. I went with a later edition for cost purposes, I hope I don’t regret that choice. As frequent readers have probably heard me say before – I hold older is better as we approach the terminal retardation levels portrayed in Mike Judge’s Idiocracy. It seems it retains one of the authors that was present on earlier editions with Perrine, and browsing through the list of poets, seems to cover mostly the classics.

I found no entries “analyzing” Ziggy Ho’ Doggs Where ‘Dem White Hoe’s At? Nor anything discussing the deep meaning of the “song” Pimp Juice (yes, kiddies that’s a “song”). They did oust the limerick in this edition, but I think we can get by.

This should be fun. I have read poetry in the past and have even dabbled in constructing a few. However I simply read them straight through, if it appealed to me, I liked it, if not, not. If I understood it, I would be prone to like it, if not, not.

This, I am sure is the most common approach to poetry. Life is short, etc, etc.

I finished the first little section earlier. It starts with a poem called THE EAGLE by Tennyson which is a great one to start with because it is quite straightforward, is singular in subject and it is short.

The next one is WINTER by Shakespeare. I found myself having to go to the dictionary on the second line. “And Dick the shepherd blows his nail.” He does what? So I had to look up and see alternative definitions for nail. Still not sure specifically what this means. It is supposed to be a winter image since the poem consists of a series of images of English country winter. Oh, and the hoot of the owl!

Poems this old represent a different level of challenge; greasy Joan keels the

pot. Is she cleaning it? Does she collapse against and capsize it?

I also have Perrine’s Literature: Structure, Sound and Sense because I thought it would be fun.

At the beginning of chapter one under the heading What is Poetry? Is a discussion of the uses of language: Informational, persuasive, and experience or the poetic use (which subsumes literature of all kinds). It then explains the difference (as well as this notion can be conveyed) between looking up information on eagles in an encyclopedia vs. what you acquire by reading a good poem about an eagle. Mere information vs. the poetic image.

Such a difference is obvious to me and has always consumed me as I fear that we are quickly losing all sense of the poetic in favor of mere data. Mind, data is fine, data is very important. But when you watch one of the most popular scientists (and I use that term with charity because these celebrity scientists don’t seem to do much science-ing) deride Twinkle Twinkle Little Star because we now know specifically, scientifically, what causes the star to twinkle and that it may not even have been a star but a planet that was twinkling in the little girl’s eye, you are seeing the death of the poetic mind.

Data about things is not the thing. There is something shocking about the mind that can know all about the properties of stars and planets and gravitation, etc, but miss the wonder in a poem about stars. In my mind there is more in that poem than in a thousand reams of astrological data on stars. That data will never give you what that poem does as it does with experience how it is experienced. The poem gives you the actual star, forms a connection between you and it, it brings it millions, billions, trillions of miles in deep space to a little girl’s window and wonder on a starry night.

That people think one replaces the other – that one was some form of primitive level of understanding now to be informed by strict measurements, logic, and attribution of objects. Much as some people view religion and philosophy as primitive forms of reasoning about the world (oh, yes, there are creatures who toss Aristotle and the whole crew in with Moses and Christ – off to the ape dump with ya!) so poetry is some remnant that modern man will deal away with by DATA!

And before this turns into a rant I’d like to offer one personal observation. I hear the strictly Science! types talk about the wonders of the universe. I fail to find the wonder in a universe of mere data. Take the twinkle out of the little girl’s eye and it is just a void.

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18 responses to “Today Starts the Day

  • dpmoring

    Dick is blowing on his hands to warm them and Joan is cooling the contents of the pot.

  • taichiwawa

    Just some thoughts:

    One of the characteristics of poetry is its compression of information in its selection and arrangement of elements such as words having multiple meanings or images that may (or may not) be symbols. Many uncareful readers miss the full experience. On the other hand, some readers become paranoid conspiracists, concocting meaning from weak evidence. As an example, one might see the owl in the Winter poem and say, “Aha! that’s the symbol of the virgin goddess Athena! It must represent the presence of Queen Elizabeth!” But, unless I’m sorely mistaken, that line of thinking is a dead end in this case.

    And though an author’s own insights about a work may be illustrative, they are not definitive. Many have admitted that others have found — and identified supporting textual evidence for — meanings that the author had previously been unaware of. When it comes to interpretation,I think if you can back it up, you can make the case.

    Personal aside: though I give greater leeway to the interpretation of artistic works. I’m more of an intentionalist when it comes to things like procedural or legal expression.

    • bensira587

      Agreed, we are destroying ourselves on interpretative reading of the law, \ although I tend not to give leeway of intention to the artist. It is either there or it is not. Case in point. Shortly after the publication of J.K Rowling’s last Harry Potter book in 2007, she stated at some talk that the character of Albus Dumbledore was homosexual. No evidence in the book was given that the man was homosexual, and the author saying it didn’t make it so.

      My objection to her making him homosexual was not that she made him homosexual – my objection was that she did not make him homosexual – what she did was make an artistic error. She can be, and is, God of the world she creates and can make anything she wants. But, once it is in the reader’s hands (once it goes to the printers basically) her powers are relinquished. She is merely a reader just as everyone else, and had no more authority to make one of the characters homosexual (or green or OCD) than any of the other several million that bought the books.

      • bensira587

        She could, obviously, write some prequel that would give evidence to the claim made outside the world of HP.

        I mean, who knew Darth Vader was just some whiney little teenaged bitch? If George Lucas had simply said that in 1977, people would have thought, “that black badass? uh-uh.” But no, he didn’t say anything, he showed us, DV is just a whiney little – stupid – bitch that got burned.

  • taichiwawa

    I once asked W. D. Snodgrass if he felt he knew everything about his poems. His answer was something to the effect that, in general, when he felt he knew everything about a poem he just wrote, he knew it wasn’t very good.

    • bensira587

      There is some sense in that.

      I can name a number of people that claim their worst work was in their bleakest hours of insobriety.

      A number of them are completely wrong. You may remember nothing about it, but it was some of your best. And since you got sober… well, here is a little alcohol and cocaine for you…

  • taichiwawa

    There is truth to “write drunk, edit sober,” a quote misattributed to Ernest Hemingway. By that, I don’t mean drunk from alcohol, but being in a state of mind that is somewhat removed,from the usual restraints of the sober, censoring self.

  • taichiwawa

    Oops! That stray comma is a remnant of an edit “if not entirely free.” But entirely free from rationality would be madness.

    “Drinking makes you loquacious, as we all know, and if what you’ve got for company is a piece of paper, then you’re going to talk to it. Just try to enunciate, and try to make sense.” ~~ Madison Smartt Bell

    • bensira587

      I find it impossible to write on alcohol. I find a nature walk with no thoughts good. Banging on the guitar or listening to riotous rock music good. But I have never written anything on alcohol or pot. Painkillers, yes, they work… quite nice. They leave you relaxed yet highly functional. But they are so rare an attainment it’s hard to get a habit going – which is probably a good thing.

      This post, btw, is false. Today did not start the day. Since Poetry was contained in Literature, I started that from page one. The first story The Most Dangerous Game was pretty good and has been used a few times in film. I think Robert Sheckley used it as well in Immortality Inc.

  • taichiwawa

    If I recall correctly, The Most Dangerous Game is an example of a poor story when judged according to literary criteria. It’s a cardboard story.

    • bensira587

      It didn’t change my life, but I wouldn’t call it poor. The book hasn’t given any indication either way – yet.

      If they want poor story, they’ll have to resurrect poor Mr. Perrine so he can view actual bad stories!

  • taichiwawa

    I’ll have to read it again. I remember it being rather one-dimensional. Entertaining maybe, but like an action “popcorn” movie.

    • bensira587

      Sure. I simply took it that it was the first story to be analyzed because of its simple structure. Which is why that one is first and you don’t get Faulkner until the very end of the literature section. Although I haven’t had the pleasure of reading Faulkner yet, I have heard he is not an easy read and would thus be a bad place to start.

      I have to say even with this one I had to pause on several of the questions about the story. I’ve been in the very bad habit of racing through stories without much reflection. Get to the end and slam right into the next one.

      There is a funny scene in the sitcom The Big Bang Theory where the character Amy Farah Fowler is sitting in this guy’s apartment after everyone else but her and Leonard have left. She is making him uncomfortable. She sits there reading and he is trying to get some work done. After awhile he turns around and she is just staring off into space.

      “what are you doing? I thought you were reading?”

      “I was. I finished.”

      “Well, what are you doing now?”

      “I am thinking about what I read.”

  • taichiwawa

    Woody Allen, talking about his speed reading experience: I read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It’s about Russia.

  • taichiwawa

    “Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours.”
    — John Locke

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