Poetics

Poetry, even that of the loftiest &, seemingly, the wildest odes, had a logic of its own, as ever as that of science; & more difficult, because more subtle, more complex, & dependant on more, & more fugitive causes
Coleridge

The scientific branch of poetry that is its Poetics has been studied & utilized by the poets since classical times. It may be defined as the technical actions the poet employs upon the mimesis which bubbles up from the psyche; the art’s nuts & bolts, if you will. Of the institutions, form is a major component, while verse is also higly ranked as rhyming falls easily on the ear & knits the memory together for future recital. These & other learned devices influence how the pure mimesis that arrives at the threshfold of the consciousness will finally appear on the page, there handled, as Ezra Pound said, ‘as a musician would expect to know harmony & counterpoint & all the minutiae of his craft.’ From abbreviation to macaronics, from metaphors to epic similes, from conceits to hypercataletics, from the Dyfalu to the Cyghanned of the Welsh bards, there are many spices that give a poem its taste & texture.

I do not have enough time or space here to create a guidebook to creating poetry. There are far too many of these type of books out there as it is. Among them is the ‘Poetic Craft & Principle’ of Robert Graves, in which one may read just about the best advice on poetics & poetical creation the budding poet may read;

An important rule of craftsmanship in English Verse is that a poet should never tell his readers how romantic, pathetic, awe-inspiring, tragic, mystic or wondrous a scene has been. He must describe the details himself in such powerful but restrain’d language (nouns & verbs always outnumbering the adjectives), that it will be the reader who catches his breath, looks up from the page & says: ‘How romantic, how pathetic, how awe-inspiring, how …

The essence Graves is capturing here, the stuff which takes ‘ordinary verse into the region of poetry,’ was described by the Roman author, Longinus, as Sublimity, describing it is

A kind of eminence or excellence of discourse. It is the source of distinction of the very greatests poets & prose writers & the means by which they have given eternal life to their own fame. For grandeur produces ecstasy rather than persuasion in the hearer; & the combination of wonder & astonishment always proves superior to the merely persuasive & pleasant. This is because persuasion is on the whole something we can control, whereas amazement & wonder exert invincible power & force

Me at the end of my travels.jpg

There has always been a metapsychotic side to poetics. Since the tribal shaman of the North American Plains regularly took peyote to help their spiritual celebrations, the elevation to the baraka has been assisted by narcotic stimulation. From a sip of the Pierian spring to the electric flush of an ecstasy tablet, taking drugs helps push back the barriers of the mortal mind & leads the poet to regions of his psyche hitherto unexplored. If strong of mind they can return from these journeys as though they had travelled abroad, a wiser man for a now wider understanding of the world. Many poets, including Yeats, were smokers of Hashish, but few have moved onto the heavier drugs… for poets prefer to live their lives rather than give it up. Opioids, however, have been the inspiration of poets for millennia. The most famous was Coleridge, whose dalliance with the drug at first inspired then destroyed his art. Taken as Laudanum, a readily available counter drug until recent years, it would soothe the poet & help conjure wildly poetic visions. The relaxing effect alcohol has on the personality is the first stimulant among the senates of the poets. From the Whiskey of Burns, thro’ the Brandy of Coleridge to the Absinthe of the Van Goch, these nectars have been the friend of many an artist & writer. But of all the stimulants, it is with Wine that the poet rests his chiefest favours. The mellowing effects of this fermented grape-juice have seeped into poetry over the ages, where monarchs would always present their poets with free wine, to help with their inspiration. Alcohol also has its downside, unfortunately, contributing to the early deaths of many poets, such as Rabbie Burns & Dylan Thomas. Elsewhere, the Chinese poet Li bai drown’d trying to capture his reflection in the Yangtzee river while rather the worse for wear, while Christopher Marlowe was stabbed in the eye during a drunken brawl.

Only a select & industrious reading of the canon, combined with a rigorous course of study, will enable the poets to sharpen their poetical abilities. Technique is clearly important, but this is no guarantee to writing true poetry. ‘The poet,’ commented Sri Aurobindo, ‘least of all artists needs to create with his eye fixed anxiously on the technichalities of his art. He has to possess it, no doubt, but in the heat of creation the intellectual sense of it becomes a subordinate action or a mere undertone in the mind.’ When composing for yourself, please try not to stray far from the Longinus’ maxim in which, ‘sublimity is an echo of a noble mind.’ One should keep one’s thoughts as free from turgidity, puerility, false emotion & frigidity as possible. Instead, approach emotion from a lofty height, engage with heart-felt feelings your subject, at all times rise from the swamps of common opinion & look at something in your own, rather fresh, way.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s