Saturday, February 02, 2008

Back From the Ether

I have been offline for some months writing and trying to figure out what computer to buy.

Taking a break from poetry boards has always worked for me to re-energize and make me consider my perspective. It's like the person at a party who speaks too soon without consideration because - well, the party is going on and they want to charge ahead. But only reading and not posting makes me think and think again about what happens to the reader while they read a poem. And, does what is happening have some value?

Then the next knotty issue: if it has value, can we adequately say what it is if we critique? That part is the hard part.

I often feel like I am attempting Casaubon's Key to all Mythologies when I am struck by a good poem and try to say what makes it good. I find myself trying to explain why a line, word or whole poem is good based on its parts but have difficulty to find the language that expresses how the magic of all those parts work together.

As I considered the enigma of the good poem's resistance to definition, I began to think of the good writer as illusionist, a trickster who plays with our perceptions in just the right way. One of the pleasures of the text seems to be the pleasure of being tricked along the path of content.

Poetry boards are rife with critiques that state what makes a particular poem lousy, or what part of a good poem is lousy.

This year, I want to go looking for better ways to notice the illusory how of good poems.


RHE said...

I'm not convinced poetry boards are made for praise. Conventional criticism--from term papers to hard-cover essays--do analysis, explication, and appreciation; but poetry boards are generally conceived as a subcategory of workshop: poets purport to bring their poems for critique--what's wrong, how do they make them better. Secretly they may long for praise, to be told that their poems are perfect and they are loved, but the expectation is that comment will focus on the weak parts. After all, if the poem didn't need improvement (so the tradition goes), it would be on its way to publication, not posting.

So you're swimming against the current if you want to post responses focusing on why poems are good and what makes them work. On the other hand, it'll make you a popular visitor, at least with the poets you're discussing.

And welcome back.

Esme B J Lee said...

Ah, hello. I don't want to just go to boards and praise, though RHE. I want to figure out how to articulate what makes good poems good--or a line in a bad poem good. And, not just for Poetry board poems but just in my general reading of poems from anywhere.

Jee Leong Koh said...

Hi Barbara Jean,
Welcome back to the net! I would like to join you on the search for the illusory how of a good poem!

Esme B J Lee said...

Jee, so good to see you drop by.

In my own quest this year for the "how" of a good poem, I have considered one of Raab's poems:

This was a poem that struck me in its simple, clear delivery. It is a poem that stays with me. So now I have to try to articulate why and how.

I will have a go on the weekend.