Have to try to pull myself together & write a real essay on this issue of "poetry as gesture", and its actualization in the public sphere of "cultural politics" - stuff I was ranting about over at Harriet. Because I have the feeling I'm really onto something. Want to get there before somebody else does. The idea that the Chicago Critics' Aristotelian approach to the definition of poetry - based on the sense of form as trans-verbal gesture, which achieves its actualization in reception - really has something to say to us.
Too bad I have a tendency to polemic, sledgehammer, oversimplifying. It's a question for fencing (the sport - I don't know the term). A counter-jab against verbiage & theory.
The fact is Elena Corrigan, in Mandelshtam's Poetics : a Challenge to Postmodernism devotes a lot of attention to this issue, in relation to M's argument (in "Conversation about Dante") that poetry is always the interweaving of two strands : the verbal material and the poetic impulse.
I'm trying, I guess, to get at something which involves not only poetics per se, but some kind of "reception theory" of aesthetics. Maybe I will try a review of Corrigan's book.
Of course it's the quality (or values) of the "verbal material" which draws our attention in the first place (cf. John Latta's variable responses to the various writers in the Grand Piano project). A set of subtle signals, to which we respond just as distinctively. But what is the context for these phenomena? Is there a single context? No.... yet I'm drawn to the idea that a culture "canonizes" certain works - takes them to its (relatively) common heart - in very elusive, unforeseen ways. There's a politics of social change involved, of course - yet I would also posit a basis in common humanity, to which some great literature gains access - something like Arnold's "touchstones", maybe (sorry)...
Every type of human art & science has its pride, its proprieties, its vast reserves of in-house craft & knowledge... all those things which set it apart from the uninstructed or uninterested multitudes. Yet just as a surgeon's knowledge is only validated in its application, & the proof is in the pudding, etc.... so the vast piles of literary works and their producers & keepers perhaps find their real justification in actual performance, in the sharing & transfer of aesthetic value. & this fact sometimes gets obscured by the pedantic emphasis on texts alone. Because the dramatic aspect of poetry finds its echo and counterweight in the dramatic substance of current events - Shakespeare's (moral) "form and pressure of the time". The poet fences with the cultural politics - and sometimes the immediate politics per se - of the moment.
& I may have said this before somewhere, but I also think this Chi-Critical concept of form offers a way to get past the sort of simplistic, superficial notions of same, represented on the traditionalist-imitative end by New Formalism, and on the nouveau-mumble end by Language Poetry & its postmodernist affiliates.