it occurs to me that I have several things to blog, including some preliminary thoughts on formAT and strategy for the awp panel -- I hope Annie Finch (on same panel, inventors in the temple: avant guarde formalism) with expand on this (I will try to here) definition she posted to the WOMPO list (it is in the archive, and so freely available there, thus I believe I can post it here) which is excerpted from a longer essay.
we're they vendors in the temple? so as mere inventors, the poets are selling their ideas for poems as forms? selling their new forms? the vendors in the temple were cast out because christianity strove to make religion less material in certain ways, making the idea of purchasing a dove or whatever like... buying a communion dress? they were also money changers -- so what is exchanged in the temple? -- vernacular money from money of the colonializing power? as soon as exchange -- what is exchange rate?
Here the keys are structure, repetition, "language element," and where concept or procedure may fall in this. Derrida, structure is romantic; Craig Dworkina and Kenneth Goldsmith, "whether it could conceivably have been done otherwise" -- and how is that different from "never so well said" in essence? what about poems written -- generated -- using a procedure which is not discernable in the end result or ever disclosed? In other words, is conceptual poetry not "the writing of the new new formalism" but perhaps something doifferent? or is all idea pattern, language element?
I think what is being sought after in the discussion re form is a
"holistic" idea of what poetry is--a way of apprehending what we sense
is unique and love about poetry that doesn't depend on picking it
The definition : "HOLISTIC: relating to or concerned with wholes or
entire systems rather than with the analysis of, treatment of or
dissection into parts."
Anyway, I guess I'm not too modest to add a post to this discussion,
because, though I appreciate the references to my book The Ghost of
Meter (which takes Eliot's idea and develops it into a kind of
semiotics or language of the metrical passages that occur in free
verse, --which are, I agree, often unconscious on the part of the
poet)--that book concerns meter and free verse only (meter being a huge
and fraught and loaded and implication-full topic of course), but in
the 15 years since that book I've continued to think and write also
about the broader question of what makes a poem a poem.
The definition that I have finally hammered out after all this time is
that a poem is a text structured by the repetition of any language
element. Structured, not decorated: for example, a passage of prose
can be enhanced or decorated by alliteration when the alliteration is
in a random pattern, but when alliteration is repeated in a reliable
pattern, as it is in Anglo-Saxon poetry, it becomes a structural
element, and the text is no longer prose but poetry (Anglo-Saxon poetry
is a good example because it was not originally written in lines, which
is the most common way we define poetry today, but even without the
typography it would still be obviously poetry because of the
There are many many language elements that can be repeated to structure
a poem--maybe any language element could be. Some of the other
repeating elements we often see structuring poems include the metrical
foot, rhyme-sounds, word count, syllable count, and anaphora (in
Whitman's catalogs for example).
The elements can be aural elements, conceptual elements (as in some
procedural poetries, such as +7), or visual/typographical elements such
as the line-break itself, which I see as the repeating structural
element that structures free verse into poetry. The expectation of the
line-break is a reliable expectation that provides the crucial
"feeling" of poetry in a free-verse poem. ( My hypothesis is that the
fact of structural repetition may cue in to the right brain, which
responds to spatial stimuli and music, rather than the left brain,
which we use for logical thinking and reading prose. This would
explain how the feeling that we are reading a poem can be triggered
similarly by poems in many styles from many centuries. What they all
have in common that appeals to the right brain would be that all share
the characteristic of being structured by a repeating language
Any of these repeating structural techniques, from the line break to
syllable count to meter, can be used well or not so well, to make poems
that are moving or not so moving--but they are all poems, because they
are all structured by the repetition of a language element.
For the prose poem (since I'm sure someone will ask--and I understand
why, since I spent years thinking about this even though it is such a
small proportion of poetry), I see the end of the passage itself (i
call this the "terminal hiatus") as the repeating structural element.
Even though it only repeats once in each prose poem, I think this
terminus functions as a structural element in the same sense as a
repeating line-break does, and gives each prose poem its sense of
"being" a poem, differentiating it from longer passages of what Lewis
Turco calls "lyric prose."
This definition of poetry is set forth more fully in a small essay in
The Body of Poetry but I wanted to share it here because I understand
the desire for a definition of what poetry is that is not based on the
quality of the poem--that always seemed a bit unfair to me and somehow
to disadvantage poetry's dignity and standards when compared with the
other arts, though I'm sure some people will feel it enhances them--and
there are so many texts that I holistically feel are poems that would
need to be excluded from narrower definitions.