Tuesday, June 03, 2008

How many?

I'm in that period when I have lots of ideas for poems but (or should that be so) I can't actually write any.

Tempted by Roy Fisher's injunction to write two sequences: 'Dirty' (six poems) and 'Clean' (two poems only). I'm also interested in his '107 Poems (pentameters for Eric Mottram)', which plays with the idea of individual lines as discrete units which you only consider secondarily as a conjoined whole. I've seen this sort of thing done lots by (mainly) avant-garde poets, and have previously had no special beef or interest in it. I suppose one of the main points of interest is meant to be the way the units provoke unforeseen associations and relationships with each other. Then this led me on to thinking that this was just another way to approach a kind of rhetoric-led poetry that I've been thinking about over the last year or so - where, again, you're less concerned with filling in a particular narrative structure than with following the (er) flow of the poem; indulging the rhetoric, as Peter Didsbury once put it. Poets I think of as sometimes working in this vein include Swinburne and indeed many of the High Victorians, John Ashbery, Didsbury himself, lots of the early moderns and the Romantics (David Gervais's essays on simplicity in recent issues of PN Review are obliquely relevant here).

Identifying it in others and doing it yourself are two different things, of course. Scylla is writing a series of phrases which remain discrete (I do want some sort of narrative or coherence to emerge), Charybdis is keeping too tight a hold on the reins all along (trying to be rhetorical, but maintaining a conscious or half-conscious plan for meaning). All I can do is keep trying.


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