Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Robert Sheppard: More notes towards that keynote at Edge Poetics

I’m now not so sure that I shall simply read these blogposts at the symposium, but I have synthecised a piece on poetics for it, perhaps (I hope, please please please) my last post (ha-ha) on the topic. I need to temper my need to define poetics (but it’s a real need, when we as a practice-led subject have to keep re-inventing the wheel for the powers that be). I’ve nothing to add, really, though I am glad I have co-edited Atlantic Drift as an anthology showcasing poetry and poetics, some of it new, and I would like to present some of that (possibly Zoe Skoulding’s piece) and even my own poetics, but I doubt if that’s entirely possible at the symposium, time-wise, but it might be. What I said I would do is this: speak ‘about why we teach innovative modes of writing’, rather than ‘how’. (I have a piece on how to start writing poems (haiku-imagism-objectivism); and I’ve written a chapter on experimental writing called ‘Taking Form’, but this is really just me writing up my lessons plans, and I hope they have been useful to the profession). Perhaps most teachers of Creative Writing teach what they like (and perhaps find more of what they like through teaching) and it is true that this curious passion (or passionate curiosity) must be the biggest driver in dealing with the basic problem of Creative Writing pedagogy: that our students do not read enough or widely. Our own passions (or our own editing: Atlantic Drift as James Byrne says in the introduction is partly the book we want to teach; and he is) will enhance that. Possibly we’ve never tried to teach reading through writing because we insist that reading should be primary. I’m sure I read most of the poets I first read I did so because I was already writing poetry, but I’ve never said so before. Perhaps there is a virtuous feedback loop encircling reading, writing and poetics that may be initially engaged at any point, should we allow it, even starting with poetics. The important thing is that the energy gets round the entire loop (and then continues). So that’s another potential avenue for this keynote that I can but raise!
            I mentioned earlier that a lot of mainstream poetry writing makes me feel ill, and I mean it viscerally: there are moments in poetry readings when I lose the will to breath, feel a leaden burden upon my genial spirits, as I listen to poetry so rhetorically constricting of its subject matter, so batteringly apposite in its battery of figurative language, so formally consistent and self-confirming, so air-tight as to be suffocating. The lyric tradition, for me, contains enough of such self-regarding artefacts (although they claim not to be artefacts). Yet it is also full of its opposite. As Christopher Middleton wrote decades ago:

To recapture poetic reality in a tottering world, we may have to revise, once more, the idea of a poem as an expression of the “contents” of a subjectivity. Some poems, at least, and some types of poetic language, constitute structures of a singularly radiant kind, where “self-expression” has undergone a profound change of function. We experience these structures, if not as revelations of being, then as apertures upon being. We experience them as we experience nothing else. (Middleton 1990: 283)

Muriel Rukeyser, in her poetics-poem, ‘Poem White Page White Page Poem’ announces that

            something is streaming out of the body in waves
            something is beginning from the fingertips

which asserts poetic rhythm as energy, waves, pulses, surges, which engender life: 

            the small waves bringing themselves to white paper
            something like light stands up and is alive (Rukeyser 1995: 268)

‘Announcing with the poem that we are about to change,’ as she says, might be a way to stay with the feeling of it; its fluidity becomes our fluidity. Its rhythms become our rhythms. (Rukeyser 1995or 4: XXX) The thing is, as Robert Kaufman puts it in an aphorism that I have quoted before in The Meaning of Form: ‘To make thought sing and to make song think,’ (Kaufman 2005: 212) as I believe Maggie O’Sullivan, Allen Fisher, Zoe Skoulding, Sean Bonney, Frances Kruk, Tom Jenks, Geraldine Monk, Peter Hughes, Cathy Weedon and Jeff Hilson, to name ten very different poets do, in their work, some of which I’ve written about critically, others I haven’t. What I’m not doing is identifying the elements of poetic artifice that cause these effects, as I would do, and as I have done, in critical discourse.
My most recent (possibly my last) critical book The Meaning of Form opens with an aphorism of its own. I say: ‘Poetry is the investigation of complex contemporary realities through the means (meanings) of form.’ (Sheppard 2016: ?) I continue:

The pun upon ‘means’ is intended to enact the supposition that if poetry does anything it does it chiefly through its formal power and less through its content, though it also carries the further suggestion that form is a modality of meaning in its own right. If we use the term ‘formally investigative’ of this poetry, we are also suggesting that the investigation of reality and the investigation of, experimentation with, form and forms, are coterminous, equivalent, perhaps not, in the final analysis, to be determined apart. (Sheppard 2016: ?)

I had best not pursue the formalist trajectory of that book as it traces the way forms, and acts of forming (and of losing form) operate in actual poems, following the careful lead of Derek Attridge’s The Singularity of Literature (a book I think all postgraduate students of Creative Writing should read). My identification of poetic forms (technique-spotting!) grounds my apprehension of processes of forming and meaning-formation, as they meet in an aesthetic response which is a material engagement of reader and text, another act of forming which is undertaken by the engaged reader. If there’s minimal engagement it’s not reading (as we might tell our students). 
I am going to read a 500 word statement of intent that may be a statement of poetics, or may be a theory of poetry, I’m not sure. I will display the 200 word version of the statement as I read it.

Read the 200 word version of 'The Formal Splinter' here or here

Read the 500 word version here.

All the thinking of The Meaning of Form may be accessed at the hub-post, one of the most accessed on this blog, HERE.

Read all parts of this draft of a keynote (or is it a Key Chord?):

Keynote Part one here:

Keynote Part two here:

Keynote Part three:  

Keynote Part four:

Keynote Part five: