Monday, December 08, 2008

Cliché and meta-awareness in poetry.

The thing is to avoid as far as possible unconsciousness and that drifting into cliché that comes from being hypnotised into one's own poetic fervour. If it feels nice and warm and proud, you know that somewhere it seeped in while you slept. Cliché is all sorts of things; it's not just known phrases or constructs; it can be in the feel or the atmosphere; it can be in the reference to a mood. Some poems are entirely cliché in that they depend wholly upon warm tracts that approximate other warm tracts elsewhere, and they are effectively unconscious paraphrasings of earlier poems. This is almost a universal malaise in poetry, especially poetry that situates itself at some earlier position in the canon. (And why would anyone ever want to do that, if not to avail him/herself of the scenic portfolio of that point in history?)

But if it IS conscious, then of course something else is happening, or rather is being done. And that is the essence of it— is being done, not is happening... The poet is actually active in this, not just sleepwalking with elves. And that activity says that the poet is still alive, has managed to keep one eye just about focused on the oncoming monstrosity and bafflement of life, and has just about managed to scrawl something honest to send back. There's almost no way to achieve this other than to write obliquely and in some coded fashion. In that there is at least the hope that something will get through without interference, that someone somewhere will somehow arrive at the appropriate nexus to decode something from the static.

If you lapse into cliché then no one will ever know exactly what it was that you were transmitting, as all cliché is effectively dead language with hopelessly imprecise meaning. If it has ever been used in more than one context, then it has become ambiguous, and all precision has been subverted. This is why the deliberately imprecise and ambiguous is the only real accuracy available in language. It allows, finally, the reader to receive his/her own message through the medium of another human. That makes true poetry a form of divination for the reader; and that requires the reader to bring accuracy, courage, concern and honesty to the reading. It is no longer about entertainment, it is about the consciousness of warfare and flesh and mortality, and the reader is now the writer, without whom no poem is ever completed.

But all of this is also untrue. As it says at the door to the Magic Theatre, 'Price of admission, your mind'... (Hermann Hesse -- Steppenwolf)



Anonymous said...

I am overwhelmed by this, and I am at this very moment writing something and would very much appreciate quoting something from this -

'then of course something else is happening, or rather is being done'

Steve said...

Thanks, and feel free to quote away.