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Friday, May 3, 2013


Interestingly, the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry & Poetics does not define poetics as the discourse of poets about poetry. The section on "Western Poetics" for example, when it gets to modernism, talks only about literary theory. Modern poetics goes from Croce to Russian formalism to Anglo-American New Criticism, with a brief detour through a series of writers taken to be critical of Croce's expressionism or of Western presumptions of universality generally. This is just bizarre. You would think Ezra Pound would be mentioned somewhere.

It is only at the end that poetics is defined as "the compositional principles that poets themselves discover and apply during the writing process" (1064). This seems only the case for "Postmodernism and Beyond," though (according to this article). This seems like a very narrow definition, too. Poetics is not just discovered and applied "during the writing process." As I see it, it is a kind of "poetry by other means." It could be the internal poetics inferred from reading poetry, an explicitly metapoetic "ars poetica," prose writing set apart from poetry, or hybrid works of prose and poetry like Spring & All.

Poetics, in the preface to the entire volume, is defined as "the theoretical and practical study of poetry."

From one point of view it doesn't matter whether Charles Olson or Roman Jakobson is doing poetics. It is still a theoretical and or discourse around poetry. There is, however, a specific tradition of poets doing poetics, and this tradition does have a certain continuity that is lost by subsuming poetics to literary theory ("about" poetry).


Vance Maverick said...


I wrote that poem
I wrote a poem like that
I decided to write poems like that
I believe poems should be like that
That is what poems do

I used a word in a particular sense
I chose to foreground that sense for this argument
That is the true sense of the word

Vance Maverick said...

(I see I meant Steigerung -- with a "ver", it means bidding, i.e. an auction.)

Vance Maverick said...

Lest I seem opaque -- my point is that your use of "poetics" is contestible at every stage. Similarly, poets and their manifesti can be read at every degree from idiosyncrasy to ukase -- which need not constrain the reader. Wyndham Lewis in "Inferior Religions" seems to be laying down the law for all, but we need not take him that way.

Thomas said...

How does this relate to the sense of poetics one sometimes finds in cultural studies or social science. I'm thinking of the sort of thing people mean when they talk about "the poetics of the social", or the "poetics" of particular social practices like law or, as in my field, the "poetics of organizing". Even in science we have this (Serres describing himself as a "troubadour of knowledge").

Here "poetics" comes to function like "rhetoric", as in the "the rhetoric of..." "...science", "...human rights", ... &c.

Is that merely a metaphorical application of the root meaning related to the how poets write poems? Lisa Robertson's definition of a poem as a "shapely urgency that emerges in language whenever the subject’s desiring vernacular innovates its receivers" got me thinking about this. I'm actually not sure whether she still means that a poem is a collection of words on a page, or whether it could something quite different, much more integrated in the day-to-day practice of living.

Thomas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jonathan said...

I think that's an interesting approach. When I talk about the poetics of cultural exceptionalism, I talk about how this is a literary discourse, shaped by poetic tropes. If you talk about the poetics of gastronomy, or anything else, then you will be talking about the tropes we use to account for those things. Poetics as a systematic study of poetic logic applied wherever it is applied.

Vance: I am just trying to see how people have used the term before. I don't see how that is contestable in the least. The idiosyncratic and the normative is something that interests me deeply. I think that tension inherent in almost all modern poetics.