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Sunday, August 27, 2023

Clear concrete images

 Pretty much, in a "good poem," the easiest short cut is to use a lot of concrete, visualizable images. The Ginsberg poem in the post a few days ago illustrates that. Notice how the "I" of the poem is placed to one side, through the use of colloquialism. We know the subject is obligatory in English, but we can elide it colloquially, as in "found an old coffee poet" or "hid my marijuana." He achieves two things: a colloquial tone and the elision of the subject in order to throw emphasis onto the objective reality. 

Bad poets tend to telegraph the emotion instead of allowing it to emerge from the concrete particulars. Ginsberg doesn't say it was so tedious, or so satisfying, to fix the toilet. We have to infer whatever the emotion might be. The tottering fence, the weeds and vines around the house, the broken toilet, suggest the the cottage is not in good shape, but the poem ends with satisfaction. The more overtly positive emotion only emerges at the end. Imagine if the elements were reversed. An angel rewarded me with plums... after a hard day's work fixing up this decrepit cottage. 

Here's a Spanish poet who telegraphs the emotion:

Luna llena que vas serenamente

haciendo tu camino por el cielo de agosto,

cuánto consuelo al corazón me traes,

qué alivio siento al contemplarte hoy

sobre este mar tan mío... (Eloy Sánchez Rosillo) [serenely, consolation, relief] 

We don't really visualize the moon, because the statement of emotion gets in the way. The image becomes is an excuse for the poet to emote. Note the insistence on the self in "este mar tan mío." There are certain echoes of the poetry of Claudio Rodríguez, who tends to ask those rhetorical questions and place modifiers in odd places: "tan mío." [so much mine]. We know we won't find anything original in a poem of ESR. He is one of the poets who doesn't even try to be original, out of some pseudo-Borgesian scruple.  

 In a workshop, Ginsberg once criticized a poem for being too abstract. I can't find it right now on the Allen Ginsberg project website, but he points out that a lot of people have a good "ear," but fewer can write concretely. 

We don't really need to have "pictorial" elements. For example, we don't need a description of the coffee pot or plumber's diagram of the toilet. What makes it sounds original is that these are not images from stock photographs, like sunsets, moons, swans, roses, or oceans that are already seen as poetical.  


Andrew Shields said...

First lesson in Levertov workshops back in the mid-80s!

Jonathan said...

I'd imagine it would be about the images and the line breaks. It is funny how Creeley is so much more abstract than Levertov.

Andrew Shields said...

Yes, images and line breaks with Levertov. And yes, Creeley’s much more consistently abstract than Levertov (though she often uses a concrete, imagistic setup to go all abstract).