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  1. JanesLife
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    JanesLife Member

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    The Art of Reading Poetry (or maybe of writing?)

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by JanesLife, Jun 28, 2008.

    When I was first beginning to voraciously 'down' poetry, I purchased a Howard Bloom compilation of poetry entitled "The Best Poems of the English Language". This anthology was advertised (or rather, is advertised) as, "From Chaucer Through Robert Frost"; it gives the generics of poetry, or rather the basics (generic has such a negative intonation), with pieces from Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot, Keats-- the 'biggies'. Already, a reader may be thinking that I put this in the perfectly wrong thread category. I considered the book discussion forum, but felt that the post would be more helpful for a writer than for a reader.

    The great mass of poetry (around 1000 pages) is headed off with an introduction by Bloom which was titled “The Art of Reading Poetry”. This was intended for a reader, obviously, but the essay lays down perfectly what tools of language an aspiring poet must utilize (although there are no instructions for the use of the tools). I found it to be interesting, if not immensely helpful, and post this rant to share some (there are too many to share all) of the nuggets which Bloom tried to offer.

    Bloom states that ‘poetry is essentially figurative language, concentrated so that its form is both expressive and evocative’. He goes on to explain how ‘figuration is a departure from the literal’, so a poem’s form can be a trope (non-literal speech) or a figure. He cites Burke, and states the four fundamental tropes: irony (meaning one thing and saying another), synecdoche (a part is substituted for the whole, or vice versa), metonymy (one substitutes an association for a phrase), and metaphor (something represents something else). By utilizing these four tropes, one can create meaning that would otherwise not exist. One can change the meaning of words, even. Language is concealed figuration: we recognize common phrases for their given meaning, we associate. “Greatness in poetry depends upon splendor of figurative language and on cognitive power, or what Emerson termed ‘meter-making argument’” Bloom says. One can utilize recognition, fuse thinking and memory to create poetry; poets often allude to other works of poetry.

    Finally, Bloom enters the nitty-gritty, and asks ‘what makes one poem better than another?’ To answer this, Bloom juxtaposes Poe’s Alone (a truly terrible poem) with Emerson’s The Rhodora (a work of genius). I won’t post each here, this rant is long enough without them (Congrats, you’ve made it this far! I wasn’t expecting it... were you?). Anywho, Bloom identifies the difference between the two: confidence and surety versus ‘self-pitying and metrically maladroit’. Poe’s Alone in comparison with Byron’s Lara, which it seemed to mirror, is ‘pathetic in the context of torrent and fountain, cliff and mountain, rolling sun and flying lightning, thunder and storm cloud’. One has to have style, and have a bit of conviction.

    Bloom implores poets to let their words be inevitable rather than predictable. A reader (or writer) should ask what the poem’s message is, and question the way in which the message is played. It is important to the eternity, or is it just for the current-now. Finallyfinallyfinally (for real, this time), great poetry may be accessible or clear, but the ‘best poems are subtle, evasive, Hermetic, and call for a heightened awareness of the nuances of figuration’. There is no set type of poetry; the commonality is that poetry ‘expands our consciousnesses.

    Sorry for all of this nonsense; I hope you (if there even is a you who has made it to the end) enjoyed this, even if you thought it was completely ridiculous. I would go on to give my own interpretation, but I think that this rant is long enough. :) Sorry for all of the paraphrasing and quoting, as well (I didn’t think that this would have ended up as such). Ah well. I would highly recommend that any reader/writer of poetry go out and buy this book, though, if only for the introduction.

    I feel that I should cite my source because this is such an obnoxious post… so here it is:

    Bloom, Harold. The Best Poems of the English Language. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2004.
     
  2. ladybird
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    ladybird Contributing Member

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    I prefer to write poetry which can easily be understood by the "unwashed masses" I suppose I could compare it to making opera available to all, and not just to the "High Brows" in the know who slap themselves on the metaphorical back.

    Anyone can write a poem, but few people express themselves in a way which is easily understood :)

    LB
     
  3. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ditto that for this full time poet... i write what i call 'philosetry' as almost all of my poetry for the last few decades has been tied to my 'day job' as a practicing philosopher... you can see for yourself how 'accessible' it is to 'the masses' and how it's aimed at being 'for everyday use' @ www.saysmom.com

    here's just one small sample:
    as for bloom's pontificating, he's only one voice among many and not the ultimate authority, so take his opinions with a healthy dose of morton's... and come to your own conclusions after studying the widely acknowledged 'greats' in the world of poetry... which list includes edgar allen...
     
  4. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Untill today this thread has not been touched since 2008.
     
  5. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Threadcheology :D I'm surprised the OP went untouched for so long. It's an interesting idea to discuss.
     
  6. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    I can only assume this was posted during my lengthy absence from this place as I wouldn't have helped posting about it. The OP mentioned Keats, and that just pulls at my heart strings. :p

    The idea itself is interesting. I'll have to read it again when I am not hungover.
     
  7. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I'll have to come back and post more in-depth thoughts later, but I thought I'd address this post first. I have to disagree with you, ladybird. I don't like the idea of catering to the masses. Reading and understanding certain poems takes hard work, and I think those readers who are willing to put in the work deserve the rewards it brings. Also, certain poems would lose their impact if they were simplified (take Wallace Stevens as an example).
     
  8. ladybird
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    ladybird Contributing Member

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    I hear what you are saying, but it is only my humble opinion. If I read a poem and it's just "words" I move on. Life is too short. I don't like abstract art while others wallow in it. For ex My_Bed a work by the British artist Tracey Emin one of the shortlisted works for the Turner Prize in 1999. Come on does that make her an artist?

    Yes, slightly different I agree. So do we write poetry for ourselves or for the enjoyment of others?

    LB
     
  9. ladybird
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    ladybird Contributing Member

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    Now your poetry resonates with me :)

    I particulary liked

    A Prayer For Peace

    LM
     
  10. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    At the academy we say 'there is art and there is...'

    war
    what is it good for?
    absolutely
    nothing

    Charming indeed. As one upon the rockface of the contemporary poetic frontier I have nothing but admiration for the rustic rhymes, the parochial poetry of the simple folk
     
  11. ladybird
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    ladybird Contributing Member

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    :eek: I'm simple and rustic :)
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Poetry comes from the heart, and the viscera. The intellect needs to hone it without sterilizing it, like a jeweler exposes the brilliance withing a translucent lump of allotropic carbon.

    The process is artistry, not mechanics.
     
  13. ChaosReigns
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    ChaosReigns Be Still and Know Contributor

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    im not exactly the most acquainted with poetry, however, i am reading Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained by John Milton, now that is hard going, all in blank verse, and for someone who isnt used to poetry, thats quite something
     
  14. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I don't think comparing abstract art to difficult poetry is fair. In fact, appreciating a painting or sculpture is much different from appreciating a poem. I would say the poetry equivalent of abstract art is all the experimental stuff we're getting these days. Maybe I'm just old school, but I don't like it.
     
  15. ladybird
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    ladybird Contributing Member

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    Fair point, thirdwind :)

    I'm also old school.

    LB
     
  16. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    When I first read Paradise Lost I was used to poetry and I found it hard going. I still do a bit too, though not it's much easier. It's easily one of the most difficult books I've ever read, but the rewards found in it are worth the pains.
     
  17. mbinks89
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    mbinks89 Active Member

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    About the whole, "catering to the unwashed masses" thing. I think that poetry should be accessible, but that at the same time, one should never dilute it for the less intelligent/those less rigorous at understanding it. Refine it until it's read with a maximum ease, but never sacrifice the art in the process for it. Likewise, don't just write claptrap because you want to be one of the "intelligentsia," because that just makes you pretentious. I think all writing should be the employment of the exact words to evoke the exact meaning, in the exact syntactic structure needed.
     
  18. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Poetry, like any other writing is communication. If it isn't accessible without supplementary (i.e. inside) information, it fails.
     
  19. ladybird
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    ladybird Contributing Member

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    You raise a good point here...and how many people do just that?

    As a newbie to the forum and a relative newbie to writing and understanding poetry I found this thread particulary interesting.

    The Guide; Part I: General Poetry Writing

    I believe Cogito sums up what I'm trying to convey perfectly. :)


    [MENTION=53447]ChaosReigns[/MENTION] Paradise Lost is on my "must read" list :)
     
  20. ChaosReigns
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    ChaosReigns Be Still and Know Contributor

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    i hope so too, i decided to read it because of an album i love called Paradise Lost by a band called Symphony X, i googled up the name of the album and came across this. Up until this point i had never read anything that was so closely linked to religion, and i think i will be better for getting this kind of understanding
    [MENTION=55200]ladybird[/MENTION] as you can prbably see from what both [MENTION=2124]Lemex[/MENTION] and i have said, it isnt the easiest read, but will be worth it
     
  21. UnrealCity
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    UnrealCity Active Member

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    I love writing poetry. I also love trying to write unique poetry.

    I've seen the saying "show, not tell" a lot on this forum when it comes to writing short stories and novels. I believe it applies heavily in poetry. I think this is where poetry becomes more complex, because people are constantly trying to connect imagery with thoughts and feelings in different ways while also trying to be understood.

    But on the flip side, some people enjoy writing/reading straight forward poetry, and enjoy the rhyme or rhythm of the piece.

    The problem with writing straight forward poetry these days is that there are only so many ways you can tell someone your heart is broken before it becomes worn. When I see straight forward poetry full of cliches I tend to exit out.

    And the problem with writing in metaphors and with double/triple entendre is the layers and meanings can be completely missed.

    There are pros and cons with every style of writing.
     
  22. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    thirdwind...
    that smacks of elitism, imo... never a good thing, to my mind...

    as far as losing their impact, i dare you to try to prove my 'simplified' philosetry has none... or even less than it could, if the pieces were made hard for ordinary folk to understand without a lot of 'hard work'...

    ladybird...
    i'm glad you liked it... it's one of my own favorites...

    love and hugs, maia
     
  23. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    If a writer wants to write something that will be understood by everyone, that's great. I've never liked this idea, although I admit it does depend on the writer's purpose. Some writers want to get their message across to everyone, but others want to write poems that can only be completely understood by those willing to put the effort into analyzing it, which is perfectly fine. As an example, take T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land. In my opinion, it's a difficult poem, and not everyone gets what Eliot is saying. Would it have the same impact if it had been written so that everyone could understand it? I say no.
     
  24. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm sorry, but 'popular writing'...creative writing even - can be very dull to read. It's not elitism, more of a scream. When something fresh comes along it is very appealing.

    If it is a writers' forum then 'I'm not one for modern art' type responses deserve disdain, surely? I don't want to understand a poem, I want to be stretched or to have an emotional response, a connection with mankind. All this folksy stuff is lightweight.
     
  25. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    I've always liked poets like Seamus Heaney and Robert Frost, who can be enjoyed on a simple level and on a deeper much more complex level. Most of the time anyway. They have been able to have the best of both, be both the beans on toast and the caviar.
     

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