Description: Afterthoughts on The Test of Poetry.
Date: 22 June 2005
This is the final edition of the first series of Simplest Things Last. I've numerically passed the number of days in November, but obviously haven't blogged every day to do it. This post ends with the promise of a bibliographical essay on the numbering STL, which you may very well find in the near future.
Did I "pass" the Test of Poetry? Despite the fact that my intent was wholly exploratory, I still feel a sense of failure about the reading/writing I did on these texts the past several weeks. The sensation of failure can be parsed: failure to identify, failure to read through an understanding of Zuk's aesthetic, and (most distressingly) failure to understand my own taste. The first type of failure might be mitigated by the hurriedness of my reading toward the end, though might more likely by explained by the general shoddiness of my education and the fallibility of my memory. Regardless, I'd like to think I could pick out the passage from Paterson, or tell Byron from Shakespeare. Confusing WCW and LZ makes sense, and I could probably demonstrate something through comparative close readings. But the second case is pretty sad--not only should I have a better knowledge of Shakespeare's plays, but I should be able to distinguish these two styles.
The second manner of failure has led to the anxiety that I don't understand the subject of my dissertation at all. And this cannot be mitigated by Zuk's constraints as a historical subject, b/c I should understand that too. I can counter this by rebutting aspects of the poetics embodied in ToP: in selecting excerpts and critiquing on a word-by-word basis, he shows himself as an absolute formalist, whereas I'm a relative formalist. I want to know how a piece (excerpted or not) relates to a whole and how a context affects the part and whole. In other words, I should disregard this second sense of failure.
The third manner of failure I can wholly blame on the above-mentioned hurriedness and partially redeem in reflection--indeed, creating such a place for reflection was the intention of this project and the larger intent of this ongoing blog. Cid Corman wrote an essay (published as The Practice of Poetry) reading through the 2nd section of the Test, gently critiquing Zuk's assumptions and handling the excerpts with much greater confidence than I could, supplying formal and occasionally social context. I figure Corman's a guy who was pretty in touch with his own aesthetic, and in fact supplements his essay with "As Addendum A Little Compendium of Poets on Poetry" which quotes the usual Objectivist and Modernist suspects. (I'm taken with a matched pair of quotes by Zuk and Oppen: first, the convoluted Zuk "trust of expression, the incentive and end of which is to unite others to it in friendship." Then, the plain spoken Oppen: "I mean to be part of a conversation among honest people." Both quoted from private letters to Corman, I'm guessing) So I'm not the only one to undertake such an exploration. Reading back over my notes, I see I accept the model of melopeia, judged on criteria of suitability (sound that echoes sense), vigor, and mellifluousness; phanopeia, judged by resonance, freshness, and resonance; and logopeia, judged by aptness, pacing, and soundness. I find that my taste responds to complicated surfaces, luminous details, competing systems (frames, registers, etc), slight shifts (when I can detect them), assonance and consonance, and reserved mystery. So do I pass or not?
NEXT: A fascinating bibliographical essay on the numbering of STL.