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Monday, March 24, 2014

Stephen Burt: "LIKE" A speculative essay about poetry, simile, artificial intelligence, mourning, sex, rock and roll, grammar, romantic love


             Covers alike


I like simile. In Stephen Burt’s new piece he considers the fact that to say something is like something is to say it is mostly not like it (otherwise the comparsion would be ineffective, or near-identical). It’s something I’ve noted, possibly lies behind the lines he quotes (from A Translated Man, with all its managed unlikely unlikenesses, as it were). Here’s a fragment.

 

You can find negated similes elsewhere, too. Consider Prince’s love song “Nothing Compares 2 U,” which most of us know only in its second version, a cover by Sinead O’Connor, both like and unlike the original song.

 
The English poet Robert Sheppard writes “we like the likeness of things but/ even if we saw them we would never know them”: we know only appearances, likeness itself, full-color projections on walls of a Platonic cave, or a “passage” (his word), that we can never leave.

 
Sheppard wrote these lines not in propria persona but in the voice of a fictional Belgian poet called René van Valckenborch, who wrote in both Flemish and French (really, in Sheppard’s English): his poems exist only in translations, versions that are only so much like the nonexistent originals they replicate.

 
The “like” in poetry may resemble the “like” in translation, where work in the target language is like (but never the same as) the source, or the like in sacrificial ritual—in Greek and Roman sacrifice, for example—whereby the gods demand the smoke of entrails, something like but nonidentical with real human beings’ real food.

 

 

Here’s the rest of the online excerpt. It's from American Poetry Review.