Thursday, April 07, 2016

Robert Sheppard; The Necessity of Poetics: Conclusions and Notes

Credo of a Writing Studies Coordinator (Abridged Version)

(The longer version of the 'credo', a document aimed at teachers of Creative Writing, appears here.)
I believe all students of creative writing should be inaugurated in the activity of poetics, since it is, of necessity, a self-sustaining part of all writerly process, born of the critical need to change practice. I believe the higher education student should be enabled to make this discourse in its most explicit forms and, to some degree, to study it.

If students are taught explicitly what poetics is and does, and to situate themselves in a field of cultural production, through critical exercises like Reading as a Writer, and even to study a particular writer’s poetics, if they are asked to use and feed these activities into a writer’s journal and in the self-assessment process, and if this has a more pronounced role in the explicit recording and developing of poetics, any ‘commentary’ or ‘reflection’ that results will be automatically poetics-oriented, and of more use to the writer.

The hybrid and intermittent nature of poetics outside of the pedagogic environment suggests new possibilities for the making of hybrid texts within it, particularly for the production of works which heal the creative writing-literary theory divide. In producing poetics, one always speaks as a writer, explicitly identifies oneself as a maker of literary works. It is itself an act of self-definition embedded in a process of self-organisation, that makes a permanent mark upon the page.

 Some Conclusions

I have glossed over many works of poetics in this piece; it has been less my desire to evaluate Sidney, Eliot, DuPlessis or Joris, than to situate them in a continuous, continuing discourse, that may be both studied in its own right and developed in terms of writing practice (inside and outside the academy). It would be easy to take issue here and there: but that seems almost beside the point, if we fail to read those ideas doubly. We must recognise, as Mays did of TS Eliot, for example, the relation of poetics to writing inherent in what are still too willingly taken to be literary critical constructs. Read in this new way these ideas lose nothing of their power – a discourse is a power construct, of course – but neither do they achieve a measure of invulnerability. They simply need to be discussed in the spirit of poetics, where use and permission, experiment and play, are as important as philosophical cogency or the (mis)matching of concept and product. Finally, I hope that any study of poetics is concerned not just with furthering the study of poetics, but with the active production of poetics as a speculative discourse for writers in order to further the arts of writing.

February-March 1999/August 2000/April 2002/revised March 2011


Return to part one (and an index to all parts of The Necessity of Poetics) here.

Notes to all parts of The Necessity of Poetics

1. ‘Poiesis’, writes Gerald F. Else, of Aristotle’s Poetics, ‘is the actual process of composition ... is the activation, the putting to work of poietike.’ (Aristotle 1970: p 79)

Poetics is not Aesthetics. Aesthetics is a contemplative analytic of art: what is art? what is beauty? what is the sublime?

Poetics is not Rhetoric. Rhetoric is to do with the laws of composition, not with the lore (or lure) of writing.

2. Poetics within literary studies is used by structuralists like Todorov, (Introduction to Poetics) or by Bakhtin (The Problem of Dostoyevsky’s Poetics) or even Harold Bloom, to speak of a theory of making that properly belongs to literary criticism. (It is common to read of the poetics of the novel, or of feminist biography, in this sense.) Poetics has also found many uses to describe various non-literary or even non-artistic kinds of making: in psychiatry to describe the making of self (autopoesis); in musicology to describe the compositional (poietic) dimension of music. Titles like Bachelard’s The Poetics of Fire adorn philosophy shelves.

3. Bernstein writes: ‘Equally at play in the context of poetics is the political and social situation, including the social configuration of poetry [writing] in terms of distribution, publishing, capitalization, jobs, awards, reviews.’ (Bernstein 1992: 157)

4. Looking for a book to put the slips of paper containing the above ‘definitions’ of poetics safely in, I took down one containing some uncollected essays by Robert Duncan. One, entitled ‘The Poetics of Music: Stravinsky’ (1948) begins with a slightly overpassive definition but one which reminds us of the term’s use in the other arts: ‘Poetics is the contemplation of the meaning of form: it is what is common to painting, music, sculpture and poetry. Poiein, Stravinsky reminds us, means to make. We might keep in mind that in the days of William Dunbar the poets were the Makaris.’ (Faas 1983: 335)

5. Poetics at one limit is apoetics, formulations that deconstruct poetics, as the continuous lower case typography on the extra titlepage of Bernstein’s A Poetics suggests: ‘ a p o e t i c s’. (Bernstein 1992: vii). In this sense, poetics must eat itself!  At another limit is anti-poetics, a discourse that accompanies the practice of not, or no longer, writing, as in the pronouncements of Laura Riding (see Seymour Smith 1970) or John Hall’s ‘Writing and Not Writing’ (in Riley 1992:41-49). See may essay on the latter in Sheppard 2011, ‘The Price of Houses the Cost of Food: The Poetics of Not Writing’: 55-67. Other essays in this volume treat the poetics of Ken Edwards and Maggie O’Sullivan, as well as the communal poetics of the Poetry Society 1976 and the cultural poetics of Iain Sinclair. Also of note is: Poetics as Conjecture and Provocation: an inaugural lecture delivered on 13 March 2007 at Edge Hill University’, New Writing. Vol 5: 1 (2008): 3-26.

6. MacGann argues that ‘Literary criticism too often likes to transform the critical illusions of poetry into the worshipped truths of cultures’. (MacGann 1983: 135) In poetry ‘we can to a degree, observe as well our own ways of thinking and feeling from an alien point of view. That alienated vantage, which is poetry’s critical gift to every future age, permits us a brief glimpse at our world and our selves.’ (MacGann 1983: 66) Perhaps a similar critical function for the writer of contemporary poetics might reside in the historical poetics outlined above.

7. My blogzine Pages ( carries a serial catalogue of hundreds of examples of historical and contemporary poetics under the title ‘The History of Poetics’: Part One: Poetics and Proto-Poetics
Part Two: Through and after Modernism
Part Three: North American Poetics
Part Four: Some British Poetics

8. Loydell (2009) contains a number of pieces that derive from creative writing research at Edge Hill University. Cliff Yates’ piece ‘Flying: A Poetics’ (28-38) and Andrew Taylor’s piece ‘The Poetry of Absence’ (4-17)  – both fragmentary aphorisms and quotations – come directly from PhDs writing there. Scott Thurston’s piece ‘Acrreted Statement (Notes)’ (123-131) was written after such study. My own ‘A Voice Without’, ‘Not Another Poem’ there are in reprinted in Berlin Bursts, Exeter: Shearsman Books (2011), which also contains the poetics piece ‘Rattling the Bones (for Adrian Clarke)’. Some of my poetics may be read as parts of my creative project Complete Twentieth Century Blues. Cambridge: Salt Publishing, 2007; in Far Language, poetics and linguistically innovative poetry 1978-1997, Exeter: Stride Research Documents, 1999; and in net/(k)not/-work(s), London: Ship of Fools, 1993, as well as in ‘Poetics as Conjecture and Provocation: an inaugural lecture delivered on 13 March 2007 at Edge Hill University’, New Writing. Vol 5: 1 (2008): 3-26. See my ‘Experiment in Practice and Speculation in Poetics’ in Teaching Modernist Poetry, ed. by Peter Middleton and Nicky Marsh (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010) 158-69 for statements about how pedagogy, practice and poetics relate to one another.

Works Cited across these posts

Allen, D., and Tallman, W., (eds.), 1973, Poetics of the New American Poetry, New York: Grove Books.

Allen, Tim and Duncan, Andrew. Eds. Don’t Start Me Talking: Interviews with Contemporary Poets. Cambridge: Salt, 2006.

Aristotle, (trans. Else, G.F.), 1970, Poetics: Michigan: The University of Michigan.

Bernstein, C. 1992, A Poetics, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Bradbury, M. 1977,The Novel Today, Glasgow: Collins/Fontana.

Danaher, Geoff, Tony Schirato, and Jen Webb. Understanding Foucault. London, Thousand Oaks, Delhi: Sage, 2000

DuPlessis, R.B., 1990, The Pink Guitar, Writing as Feminist Practice, New York and London: Routledge.

Eliot, T.S., 1975, Selected Prose, London: Faber and Faber.

Esslin, M. (ed.) 1965, Samuel Beckett, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.

Faas, E.,1983, Young Robert Duncan, Santa Barbara: Black Sparrow  Press.

Foucault, Michel. The Archaeology of Knowledge London and New York: Routledge Classics, 2002.

Fisher, A. 1985, Necessary Business, London: Spanner.

Fisher, Roy. Interviews Through Time and Selected Prose. Kentisbeare: Shearman Books, 2000. 

Golding, Alan, ‘Experimental Poetics and/as Pedagogy in eds. Retallack, J. and Spahr, J. Poetry and Pedagogy. New York and Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

Joris, P., 1999, Notes Towards a Nomadic Poetics, Spanner 38.

CJ Jung, quoted by Ezra Pound in Foreword to Selected Cantos of Ezra Pound, p. 9

Lowry, M. Selected Letters of Malcolm Lowry, Capricorn Books, New York, 1969)

Loydell, R. (ed.) 2009, Troubles Swapped for Something Fresh: Manifestos and Unmanifestos, Cambridge: Salt.

MacDiarmid, Hugh. 1985. The Complete Poems (Volumes 1 and 2). Harmondsworth: Penguin.

MacGann, J, 1983, The Romantic Ideology, Chicago:University of Chicago Press

Mays, JCC, ‘The Early Poems’ in Moody, AD, 1994, The Cambridge Companion to TS Eliot, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

‘Poetics’: ‘Poetics at Buffalo’, hhttp://wings. accessed 1 March 1999.

Riley, D. (ed.) 1992, Poets on Writing, Basingstoke and London: Macmillan.

Rabinow, P. (ed.) 1984, The Foucault Reader, London: Penguin.

Romer, S. 1982, ‘Correctives’, PN Review 27: p 63-64

Rothenberg, Jerome. Pre-Faces and Other Writings. New York: New Directions, 1981.

Rothenberg, J., and Joris, P. (eds.)  1995, Poems for the Millennium, Volume One from Fin-de-Siecle to Negritude, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Rothenberg, J., and Joris, P. (eds.) 1998, Poems for the Millennium, Volume Two from Postwar to Millennium, Berkeley and Los Angles: University of California Press.

Rushdie, S. 1990. Is Nothing Sacred: The Herbert Read Memorial Lecture: 6 February 1990. Granta: First American Edition. No place of publication.

Seymour Smith, M.,1970, ‘Laura Riding’s ‘Rejection of Poetry’’, The Review , no. 23. 

Sheppard, R., 1999a, Far Language, poetics and linguistically innovative poetry 1978-1997, Exeter: Stride Research Documents.

Sheppard, R. 1999b. ‘The Poetics of Poetics: Charles Bernstein, Allen Fisher and the poetic thinking that results’, Symbiosis, 3:4. 

Sheppard, R. 2002, The End of the Twentieth Century: Twentieth Century Blues 63, Liverpool: Ship of Fools, re-published in Complete Twentieth Century Blues. Cambridge: Salt Publishing, 2007.

Note. The earliest, pedagogically oriented, version of this text was delivered as a paper at the Creative Writing Conference 1999 at Sheffield Hallam University, and was first published in the Proceedings of the conference. A shorter version, emphasising practical uses for students, was published by Ship of Fools in 1999 solely for distribution amongst Writing Studies MA students at Edge Hill College of Higher Education, Ormskirk, Lancashire, UK. Another – emphasising poetry – was published in Pores, A Ship of Fools booklet was published in 2002 and was re-printed a number of times. This updated version has been amended, expanded and abridged in various ways, but the chief addition is the section ‘Poetics as Discourse’ which was written in 2009. This is a re-presentation (in part) of the 2011 publication.