POETRY IS THOUGHT, PROSE IS INCIDENT

Image result for 19th century british painting

THE REASON there are so few good poets is not difficult to understand. The poet is sensitive to an extreme degree, and because of this, makes a big deal out of the small.

This is both a gift and a curse.

Admirable is the person who can produce something marvelous from an idea or two, from almost nothing.

But those who make something big out of what is small tend to be worrisome and unreasonable at best, and hot-headed psychopaths at worst—the kind of person who worries themselves sick over a rumor, or explodes over a slight, and this weak, anxious temperament (always making a big deal out of the small) is unsuited for calm and lengthy poetic contemplation.

The accomplished poet is paradoxical; they are cursed with a personality which makes a big deal out of everything—and yet, miraculously, they are also slow to anger, even-tempered, thick-skinned, and calm.  They have to be, to write poetry.

The poet is in possession of that faculty which transforms the trivial—mere words, syllables, sounds—into sublime speech—and this uncommon, visionary character which fantastically creates the grandiose from nothing, is naturally the sort of person who is volatile in the extreme—but the poet, has a dual nature; is both extremist and conservative at once.

Such a person, with two powerful and absolutely opposing psychological tendencies, will, as a rule, be extremely uncommon among any population.

This is why poetry does not progress—we look back at previous eras and find genius randomly distributed; we observe in our own day a greater number of persons with leisure to write, thousands of writing programs encouraging poetry, and increased material conditions for sharing poetry, without any signs that poetry as a rule is better, or that poetic genius is expanding itself in any measurable way.

It even seems that genius is diminishing, and poetry is getting worse. Perhaps, in total, it is not getting worse—there are just more poets and so, more bad poetry. But poetry does not, by any measure, seem to be mechanically improving.

Poetry does not improve—because there is an algorithm for the good poet which does not change.  The good poet—as a poet—will create something out of nothing.  The weak person—as a person—will create something out of nothing. The good poet cannot be a weak person.  The good person cannot be a good poet.  Therefore, personality-wise, the great poet is impossible.

If what we have just said about the paradoxical task of poetry—making “the small big,”—seems to be mere psychological claptrap; nothing more than silly theory, the following, perhaps, will be better received.

It refers not to the person, or the poet as a person, but the poem—and therefore, is, perhaps, a better explanation for why the good poet is not common at all.

Poetry is thought and prose is incident.

Alarming incidents, thrilling incidents, horrific incidents, which writers recount, seek, embellish, and share, are told, sought, worked up, and shared for the simple reason that this is the life blood of all story-telling, that which thrills and excites.

Exactly. This is precisely the problem. Incident detracts and distracts from the great poem; incident belongs to fiction, not to poetry. Poets who share sensational incidents are actually harming themselves and their art—using what they think is necessary, but which is actually the opposite.

One incident, thoughtfully presented, is the soul of the poem. Fiction, by its very nature, is a series of incidents. The horrific or outlandish incident has the necessary space in fiction to live, breathe, and be believed.

An incident which is verifiable and viable outside of the poem does not belong in the poem.

A political reality does not belong in the poem.

The hour does not belong in the poem. The hour can be presented in fiction and the reader can think about that hour. But only the hour which thinks in a moment belongs in the poem.

Only thought belongs in the poem. Not incidents which live on their own.

There is a reason why Pope described poetry as, “What oft was thought, but ne’er so well expressed,” and not, what oft was seen and completely understood and ne’er so well recounted.

Innumerable poets fail to understand this, and this is why, for more than any other reason, there are so few good poets.

 

3 Comments

  1. maryangeladouglas said,

    October 4, 2018 at 8:47 pm

    JOHN KEATS BETWEEN, WHAT IS WRITTEN, WHAT IS DREAMED

    between what is written
    and what is dreamed
    I saw a thin, a golden margent

    and the seas rushing over it
    the seawall, the rushing words
    becoming music, after all

    in the tree shade as it was remembered
    and the days dripping down like the honeycomb
    the moon, its silver door left ajar.

    come tell me where you are now
    something called.
    I couldn’t say it all

    in nightingales, in urns
    in the mauve turning of the stair
    into the everywhere

    I tried.
    until I died.

    a maiden cried:
    plant myrtle- here.

    mary angela douglas 4 october 2018

  2. maryangeladouglas said,

    October 5, 2018 at 1:39 am

    IN OCTOBER, COMMEMORATING RAY

    Always we banked on another sunflower sun beside

    a timeless river of stories

    or the green one

    with the pop up trees

    the thinness of oxygen on other planets

    yet, the rustling of leaves.

    through the drear trees

    another race run

    in orange October finely spun

    poster board orange shouting

    I am the one

    the one with all the stories

    bursting out of pockets, old lockets

    the closets stashed with them

    making hash posthaste

    not to waste a minute

    getting it all down

    the cosmic reporter back in town

    back with the story, that’s him

    grinning that grin

    gulping hot dogs, washed down with

    fountain sodas

    any modus operandi you have ever heard of,

    forget it. Bradbury’s got his own

    his very own carnival, circus train

    arriving at 3 a.m. with the elephants, the mystical elephants

    the dinosaurs bewitched by foghorns

    go twirl the dark green dial back the

    leatherette luncheonette stools

    the ceiling fans unwinding summers slowly

    so that you taste again the potato salad, cherry phosphate

    nobody makes like that anymore the fried doughnuts

    and you are out the door in brand new tennis shoes

    racing with the leaves

    across the lawns the Carnegie library

    breathing in all the book fragrances

    as if there had been

    some harvest of gold.o keeping the spell

    of all the stories ever told you;

    you would ever tell.

    mary angela douglas 4 october 2018

  3. maryangeladouglas said,

    October 5, 2018 at 6:25 pm

    THE FAIRY TALE NOT IN THE CORRECTED EDITIONS

    (in allusive reverence for Charles Dickens’ Fairy Tale “The Magic Fishbone”as concerning Present Time)

    ah, my bent fairy tale

    who will straighten your spine

    correct your magic fishbone now

    dare I wonder aloud in the milk white wood

    in the season of misunderstood

    this harvest of weeping pearl

    half murmured to no crowd at all.

    yet to the singular heart, a Throne

    that’s recognized.

    be good then and don’t.

    that was the quote from the godmother dressed

    in peach and pale silver far from the

    census of what is allowed.

    I will bury your treasure

    in deep snow, forgoing all roses

    forgetting all else I know

    standing guard in white velvet.

    that the children may not wander alone

    without a single glimmer

    vacant flowers in their eyes.

    what is bending for sighed Light but for

    jewel like refraction (as in rainbows)

    wishes don’t grow

    on the tree of coercion

    measuring your shadow’s height

    on the executioner’s wall

    ah, ah, my bent fairy tale. No.

    not at all.

    mary angela douglas 5 october 2018


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