11.05.2010

No-Name Poetry : or, The Word As Such

A poet walks onto an empty stage, facing a silent audience. He or she has no amps, no electric ukelele. No Power Point, no video. No advertising, no campaign signs, no brand names. No back-up singers, no celebrity emcee. No award ribbons, no academic certificate or graduation cap. Sometimes not even a microphone. No status symbols at all.

The poet stands in a small circle of light and silence. & then he or she begins to read (or recite or chant) some words - a little scary, almost embarrassing in their nakedness & solitary singularity.

This is one way that poetry upholds the dignity and integrity of speech, of a language : by celebrating the word as such(1). Our language, our speech - set apart within its own distinct circle - thus manifests the art which is most proper to itself. In poetry, language reveals its interior structures & proportions, its specific gravities, its particular aesthetic values. & in doing so, it dignifies all speech & language, both the artistic and the everyday. (This is one of the meanings of Wallace Stevens' epithet, "Poetry is a sanction of life.")

I would like to see thinking & talk about poetry today move away from, resist, those forces which tend to push it toward commercialization, toward hybridization, toward triviality & ephemeral gratification, toward sensationalism, toward crude & crass anti-intellectualism, toward brandings & rankings & the philistine chatter borrowed from sports & showbiz, toward reactionary or nihilistic mass-pop culture, toward the servile mimicry of more fashionable arts & pastimes, toward the fakery of pseudo-movements & academic jargon-campaigns, etc. etc....

& I am suggesting that the best & most powerful way to express such resistance is to remember & recognize that poetry - poetry per se, authentic poetry - is the art of the word as such. When poetry shows the courage to stand alone, in all its humility & naked simplicity, it enacts the integrity & dignity of the language at large. & in so doing, it keeps culture alive.

(1) "the word as such" : a key notion in the aesthetic formulation for the Russian Acmeist movement of the early 20th cent.

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