Wednesday, March 18, 2009

the plain style in poetry

“Innovation does not mean change for the sake of change; experiment does not mean fiddling with a perfectly serviceable tool. Innovation is a necessary response to force of circumstance in which the apparent utility of the medium is insufficient.” --Jed Rasula, introduction to Syncopations

“this importance cannot be seen in what the poem says, since in that case the fact that it is a poem would be a redundancy. The importance lies in what the poem is. Its existence as a poem is of first importance, a technical matter, as with all facts, compelling the recognition of a mechanical structure. A poem which does not arouse respect for the technical requirements of its own mechanics may have anything you please painted all over it or on it in the way of meaning but it will for all that be as empty as a man made of wax or straw.” --William Carlos Williams, 1934 review of George Oppen’s Discrete Series

“I am moved by work that does one or more of the following: includes emotions seldom found in contemporary poetry; unsettles the limitations of genre and convention; subverts cultural complacencies; articulates emotional states for which there is no norm; enacts the reader’s sublime.” --Alice Fulton, “A Poetry of Inconvenient Knowledge,” in Feeling as a Foreign Language

“Simplicity is prized as a symptom of sincerity...” --Alice Fulton

Plain speech, as Marjorie Garber notes in Quotation Marks, is “often a cover for the most successful and duplicitous (or at least manipulative) speech.”

The assumptions inherent in the plain style: of readerly collusion, of frictionlessness. Poetry is a language art; it contains artifice. To pretend otherwise is to pretend. Poetry written in the plain style is as rhetorical in its colloqualisms and accessible diction as stylized poetry is in its involutions and disjunctions. The difference is in the poet’s assumptions of the reader’s reception. The plain style poet expects the reader to slide with ease across her words in order to focus better on her content, whereas the more resistant poet expects the reader to work at reading, to experience the textures of language as an integral part of the content.

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