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Friday, July 16, 2021


 I was writing a blurb and trying to find a word meaning sententious in the original sense of wise and aphoristic, rather than the contemporary sense of pretentious and sanctimonious. The original sense was "'full of meaning or wisdom, later becoming depreciatory.'" Portentous also has negative overtones. It would be like trying to make unctuous mean sincerely caring, rather than insincerely flattering. For me, Gamoneda has that prophetic gravitas, that heavy tone: 

"Hubo un tiempo en que mis únicas pasiones eran la pobreza y la lluvia." The statements are absolute ones, with no doubt or irony. Even his paradoxes have the apodictic tone.  [there's another good word!]. He could say "I got up this morning and stubbed my toe" and it would sound important.  


A friend asked me why I was both a Lorca scholar and a devoté of New York School poetry. I guess he hadn't seen that I devote chapters to Koch and O'Hara in the first Lorca book. I'm sure that's an idiosyncratic gesture on my part. Koch's levitas is at the polar opposite from Lorca's tragic sensibility.  I wanted to argue that these were the Lorquian poets, not just Bly or Blackburn.  Isn't the point of having more than one language having an extra perspective?  To read O'Hara through French poetry is predictable (or could be) but to see him through Lorca is potentially more interesting. And Koch is never chosen for those books in which the critic sets up five major figures from different schools of poetry to discuss, like Ashbery, Ammons, Rich, and Wright. I don't know if there's a lot of serious criticism on him at all, so I'm proud I have one of the only book chapters on him.  

Weight, gravitas, lack of sense of humor, are seen as seriousness and majorness, importance. The opposite of frivolity, triviality, minorness. It is easy to see Gamoneda as a major poet, (for those of us who like that sort of thing) because we conflate mass with seriousness (our cognitive metaphor of choice).  A comic genius like Koch will never be in the same category. But I have them both.   


Thomas Basbøll said...

I remember a book blurb describing (I think) Oscar Wilde's Picture of Dorian Gray as something somemething and "well-wrought epigram". Is "epigrammatic" the word you were looking for?

Jonathan said...

Epigrams are short; this is a long epic poem, though phrases of it sound aphoristic.

Thomas Basbøll said...

I may be taking "sententious" too literally? (Or may be malapropriating.) Isn't the underlying complaint against the sententious person that they always go for the sanctimonious punchline, stated in a sentence?

I like the idea that sentences are the things in experience that are "full of meaning". When we call even a long speech or poem "sententious", it's because it keeps telling us what it means in simple. Punctuated. Sentences.

Phaedrus said...

When you run out of things to do, my friend, please write a formalist/stylistic analysis of Koch's poems; a short book would be fine.