Friday, June 18, 2010

The Future of Poetry

I came across this article from The Guardian (June 18, 2010) and thought you might find it interesting.

From the article:

The Hungarian-born poet George Szirtes, who teaches poetry at the University of East Anglia, says poems try to capture a reality that is deeper than language. "You're trying to say: I know what this thing is called," he says. "It's called a chair, and that thing is a table. I've got this word 'chair' and I've got this word 'table', but there's something peculiar about this chair and table which using the words chair and table will not actually convey." Readers, he says, may race through novels because they want to know what happens, but they should look to inhabit poems. "Nobody reads a poem to find out what happens in the last line. They read the poem for the experience of travelling through it."

I ask Szirtes whether he thinks "What is poetry for?" is a valid question. To my surprise – because plenty of poets think it's an absurd question and that no art form should worry about its function – he believes it is far from academic. "It's a question that does preoccupy you the longer you do it," he says. "When you first do it, you never ask that question. But as time goes on, you begin to be conscious of it. My sense now is that when people begin to speak, when language develops, there are two essential instincts: one of the instincts says, 'What is this?'; the other one says, 'So what happens?' So what happens is the beginning of syntax, of storytelling. The other feeling, where you are confronted by some aspect of reality for which language is always inadequate, is the instinct that goes into poetry." Poetry, he suggests, "begins with a cry" – of anguish, fear or frustration. Szirtes quotes Emily Dickinson's maxim that "a poem is a house that tries to be haunted". A poem should not deliver all its secrets at once, if ever; it is not there to be solved.

Read it all:

1 comment:

  1. Respone to Guardian article

    Does poetry self-examine more than the other arts? Aside from what people choose to listen to, no one seriously asks why we listen to music and, by extension, why some of us write and compose music. Poets seem to go into the arts shower and check for lumps more than other artists. It'd great if they could cut back on that to once every ten years. Poetry will probably never translate into megabucks. That doesn't mean we have to rip into ourselves more than other artists as to our relevance. Unless we teach it or attend classes, poetry's an extra-curricular thing some of us do, the after-hours activity, usually without pay. Aside from relatives looking down their noses at poets-in-the-family and doing their worst to denigrate our efforts by repeating things like, "you'll never make a dime off that", poets "get it". I have my views about the off-hours pursuits of others. I wouldn't brag.

    New Jersey has a fairly strong poetry scene. I try to make 4-5 readings per month and co-host or co-direct a once-a-month reading. New York City, judging by on-line arts calendar entries, seems to have more readings. It's more densely populated. It should. People who've been involved with poetry for more than twenty years say the interest poetry readings generate is cyclical. Probably so. Some events are better attended than others. Sometimes it seems as if poetry is dying off.

    I like "for paying attention" and "a way of observing the world, of noticing things and seeing them differently" as answers to "What is poetry for"? I like all the other answers, too.