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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Where Do We Go Now?

I've been given leave to share some year-old correspondence with you all; although the thoughts aren't hot off the press, they are, nonetheless, not yet out-dated. Enjoy!

In query to me:
 So, here's a big question: do you ever speculate on the future of English poetry as such? Like, where the whole enchilada is going from here? From my impoverished standpoint, it seems as if the last really original poet in the language was Eliot, almost a hundred years ago now. I mean, I guess Ginsberg did something sort of new, in the sense of taking the dissolution of thought about as far as one can while still being at least nominally coherent, but that's a false path if there ever was one. It feels like the rest of us are just sort of chewing over the old forms and watching them get staler and staler. There's never going to be another great epic; the sonnet is beginning to feel antiquated even to me, who love sonnets more than pizza (well, some days, anyway); and free verse seems to have largely devolved into simply an excuse not to bother with finding viable rhymes while talking about one's feelings or opinions. So where exactly do we, or can we, go from here? The language itself may have to start changing pretty radically in order to open new doors of expression--but then again, it's poetry itself that drives changes in language, or ought to be. (Ever read Poetic Diction, by Owen Barfield? It's one of those books that end up shaping the foundations of my every waking thought. The gist, in extreme brief, is that Poetry and Thought Itself are eternally connected in a sort of reciprocal chicken-and-egg cycle of influence. Profound stuff.) I dunno, dude. I kick this around in my head from time to time, and lately it's been head-kicking time around here once again. I'm not sure I'm any closer to a useful idea, tho'. Any thoughts?
And my response:
I don’t know. I do wonder about it – not, I think, as often as you do, or with such apparent intensity. I entirely agree with your interpretation of modern free verse; it is romanticism at its lowest, most unintellectual and solipsistic form. I’m a huge fan of writing in regular rhythm and meter. I feel a little like a character in one of Edward Eager’s books who, upon hearing that most modern poets don’t rhyme, sniffs and says, “Hmph! Lazy things!” 
I suppose one option for forward progression is to return to skillful use of form with modern language. Yes, the sonnet, for example, is antiquated, and so it does in a way make sense to use archaic language when writing one, but perhaps we need to start working within the strictures of iambic pentameter, or any regular type of meter and foot, using colloquial diction. A return to form of any sort, at this point in our free-love free-everything radically liberal world that rejects structure in the name of individuality and rights, would be a vast improvement and a gigantic leap. Maybe we can get villanelles to replace sonnets as THE POETIC FORM. I’ve never read one that I’ve been really convinced by; the repetition always seems contrived and sort of sing-songy. Get on that.
I don’t know Ginsberg. Can you tell me more about that?
Unfortunately, I don’t see our language changing radically anytime soon. As everything in our world becomes smaller and more universal, idiosyncrasies of dialects and regional linguistic movements have less and less chance of survival and development. I heard a radio show the other day about how many distinct accents there used to be in Texas, and how so many of them have either already died out or are on their way out. Last time I was in Europe, people were surprised that I was American, as I didn’t have a particular regional accent. Many assumed I was British. (Yes, even in Scotland. Go figure.) Of course, they could have been limited in their view of how Americans speak. But seeing as I have lived, among other places, almost 8 years in Dallas and 12 near Boston, both of which places have fairly distinctive accents, you’d think that I’d speak one way or the other. Once in a great while I hear myself drop an r from the end of a word, and I do say both ya’ll and wicked from time to time. (“Ya’ll come ovah hee-ah wicked fast.”) But with these particularities of speech habits fading out, the more substantial structure of the language will continue, I believe, to become increasingly universalized and less exciting. Unless there is a huge disturbance to the world order, a dissolution of equalizing technology and world-wide communication, not to mention an eradication of blandi-fying TV, I don’t know that the language will do anything but become more standardized. That clip of The Three Little Pigs Shakespeare-style is, I think, a clear enough example of how much our language has declined in richness over the centuries. If only we had some barbarians with a currently unknown language who could rise up from somewhere, conquer the English speaking world, mix their language with ours, and somewhere 100 years down the road allow for an incredible wealth of novel and rich poetry, we might have some hope. Besides the linguistic wealth and innovation such an occasion would allow, we would have some pretty fantastic subject matter. I mean, hell, we might get another Aeneid out of that! And maybe our neo-Virgil would actually finish the story this time around.
All of that being said, I did go to a lecture last night on Sunni Jihadist Islamic militant movements in North Africa and the Middle East. The speaker seems to think that we’ve got 5-10 years before the failed tactical methods of the U.S. in the area will come back to bite us and all hell will break loose as a radically violent religious ideological organization that spans portions of two continents and 10-15 countries makes war on the remnants of Western Civilization. So that was a little scary. Silver lining? If that happens, we might get some good poetry out of it. Hmm. Perhaps you and I need to realign our priorities.
Poetic Diction by Owen Barfield. I have not read it. His thesis is one to which I’ve given a fair amount of thought, however, and it sounds like I agree with him. I think that good writing is a reflection and refinement of the thoughts of the times, stemming from them, but saying them more cohesively than they have been expressed, thereby allowing the people to know what they’re thinking with a clarity previously unheld. Certainly, the refinement of the thoughts shapes them in a particular direction, which is where the chicken-egg overlap happens. So yeah, I think I would like Mr. Barfield. I like his name, too, for that matter. 
Anyway, thanks! It’s always good to have a chance to think about this stuff. And did I mention how much I enjoy writing? It’s just great. The Toilet Limerick, by the way, is something that I thought that you particularly would enjoy. Was I right? Oh, and about that, does a proper limerick have to be in anapestic trimeter in lines 1, 2 and 5? I started beating out the several limericks I know, and discovered many variations in syllable length for each of those lines. Most were somewhere from 8 to 10 syllables, but even that is quite a margin. I think I decided that since it is such a trivial verse form, attention to detail needn’t be so strictly observed. But then, maybe that’s me being the lowest form of Romantic poet. Ah well.
Well, friends, I hope we've given you some food for thought. Get to it! I would like 5 villanelles by the close of business, please.

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