October 04, 2005


About this, Ambivalence Reigns Supreme. The regulatory passage runs

When exactly do we know when a poem becomes a "thought," a book of poems an argument?....If there's a solution to this quandary, it lies in treating poetry other than as a vehicle for argument....
[emphasis Bachelardette's]

As a sentiment, this is easy to cheer; poetry should be free as Ronnnie Van Zandt, and unvexed aesthetic autonomy should fill the room like nitrous oxide fills the back of the van, man. As an idea about poetics, however, this wants to do a lot of work it's hard-pressed to do. First of all, a poem becomes a "thought" as soon as it has a word in it; that doesn't seem like much of a philosophical problem. But as for the thornier issue of when a book of poems becomes an argument: who're you asking? Or, more relevantly, who gets to answer?

If the idea is that poets seem, over and over, to gain little and lose much by consciously and conscientiously staging arguments in their books (the political polemic being a leading culprit), then the 'dette, me, and Marjorie Perloff are on the same page and it is perhaps the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. But I'm not sure any poet gets to regulate whether their book gets read argumentatively, because argument is not in fact necessarily a product of intention; the reader gets to read for argument if she likes, or if not, not.

If poetry expresses the poet's linguistic consciousness within its particular social circumstance and historical moment (and I continue to dare you to show me some poetry that doesn't), then the material understood to be present there, whatever the desires of the poet, is the very material in its raw form from which argument can be formed. Moreover, as a poet, I'd much rather have a reader willing to engage poems at that level and intensity, as parts of our world, than passively following the product instructions to frolic in a separate realm of aesthetics. And as a reader, I'd far prefer to live in a world where Kristen Ross reads Rimbaud as a set of claims on how we live, where Kristeva reads Mallarmé for argument and even for political argument, shock! — insightfully, dialectically — no matter how high he runs the l'art pour l'art flag up over the shipwreck.

Kristeva and Mallarmé can both be right, or rather, both position-takings can add to my pleasure as a writer/reader, can enlarge the realm of imaginable desires. I gainsay neither.

Posted by jane at October 4, 2005 08:56 PM | TrackBack