Tuesday, July 25, 2006


JH: Thanks! You writes gooder tho: "those critical knots that Donne ties in his clanking machines, worry beads of metaphor that hold you"! Love also your Benchley and Thurber background, which bespeaks a commitment to literature that seizes on words that carry something extra with them (humor, surprise, sprightliness). "Poetry can't be directed, even when fitted into forms, even narratives." is an excellent point. I wrote that one can write poetry with or without the assistance of literature, and would like to ask now if literature cannot allude to poetry with the same integrity as poetry can allude to literature? What is the meeting point? We've established (for the nonce, upon shifting sands no doubt) the word as the meeting point of prose and poetry. What is the meeting point of literature (how to define literature?) and poetry, and is it one-way, with poetry alone coming and going at will? Literature, as an instance rather than a set, could be defined as a text whose words allude (deliberately, but how to define intent in a text?) to other texts as well as the meanings of the words (the words singly and together). But the instance is instantly part the set. What is to be subsumed: is this an apt definition of literature? Anny Ballardini in a comment to Antic View 79 asked "Which elements are made available to the poet when writing?", which currently I can only answer with another question, "What makes a poem a poem and not literature or prose when the poet is writing?" Is it sheer will, or habit? Some elements made available to the poet when writing are imagination, taste (an old-timey term for what one considers a proper poem), and what one has written before (as an enemy as well as a guide). Imagination is composed of pre-existing elements, too. So the elements are refined more and more from their original shape until they are suited only, or primarily, to the poetic? If so, what separates these mutated elements from my ersatz definition of literature? The fact that they are not public (and barely private)?
AHB: One easy answer can entail how literature is culturally accepted. Shakespeare, of course. I must've read Merchant of Venice in 9th grade, found it less heinous than I expected (expecting little offered in public school as any too pleasing), but, offered medicinally: that was literature. when I read Shakespeare later, on my own: that was poetry. the difference somewhat defined by my receptivity, but also the 800 pound gorilla aspect. the term literature probably guides us, giving us cairns along the way. you can see poets becoming literature. The Cantos, say: that news has been scoped. what was once the edge and avant has been taken in by 'us'. which doesn't mean The Cantos are over, just that the work has lost that initial surprise. you even see this in the Beats, what once was seen as rough and demanding has now been cottoned to. it's a regular cultural process, I suppose. poetry perhaps is a singular state, for reader and writer both, whereas you read literature along with everyone else. does that seem a fair statement? I don't think one can presume to write literature, literature lacks the immediacy of this life's present, tho it comprises great sweeps of time. literature is somewhat an honourific, but also evidence of impact. I don't want to make poetry sound too rarified, but I think its vitality is its focus. or essence. perhaps literature is a structure in which poetry can live? is all hard to say. literature and poetry meet where we are most human, in the face of love, life and death. it's hard to set such terms down, for fear they will seem inflated, but damn it, they aren't.


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