Saturday, 13 June 2015

Dana Gioia in "The Dark Horse"

Dana Gioia has an article in the 20th anniversary issue of "The Dark Horse". In it he points out that

  • "there is no human society, however isolated, that has not developed and employed poetry as a cultural practice", p.11
  • "Until quite recently, poets still assumed that the typographic text would be vocalized in some way", p.12

He thinks that "Poetry speaks most effectively and inclusively (whether in free or formal verse) when it recognizes its connection - without apology - to its musical and ritualistic origins", p.13. Inclusively, yes, but "effectively" is more controversial. He thinks that "Poetry offers a way of understanding and expressing existence that is fundamentally different from conceptual thought", p.17. Different, yes, but I'd contest that it's "a way of understanding and expressing existence". He then considers academia -

  • "Critical analysis remains deliberately outside the full experience of the poem, which is physical, emotional, subjective, and intuitive as well as intellectual", p.16
  • "The work of [The New Critics] represented a great moment in American intellectual history. Yet their immense success also had an enduring negative impact on the popularity of poetry", p.19
  • "No one intended the decimation of poetry's audience or the alienation of the common reader. Like most environmental messes, those things happened as accidental by-products of an otherwise positive project", p.20

I think that critical analysis is less like that nowadays (we know what makes adverts and political speeches effective, and are more likely now to apply that knowledge to poetry), and I think that The New Critics weren't that massive. He suggests 2 ways to improve the situation -

  • "to recognise the power of enchantment in teaching poetry", p.24
  • "critics, scholars, and teachers need to recognize and respect non-conceptual forms of knowledge, which are fundamental to all literature, especially poetry ... These are often difficult elements to summarize in abstract terms, but their resistance to conceptual paraphrase reflects the limitations of criticism not the limits of art", p.24

He points out that "Poetry Out Loud has just celebrated its tenth anniversary. Two and a half million students have participated in the competition", p.23. Good news.

Apart from the points I've already made, I disagree with little he says, though when he uses the word "poetry" I understand it as having different meanings depending on context. There are different type of poetry. Some (free-form or formalist; sung or read) are popular with the public but not theorists, and v.v. Some are popular with both. That's not meant to be a value judgement, it's just how they are. I think that popular poems/songs are as popular as ever, nowadays often experienced on the move. I don't think that affects the popularity of serious poetry which has never been popular, though there have been times when the culturally engaged felt more obliged to buy the latest poetry books than they currently do, even if those books weren't read. Serious art - even modern art as displayed at Tate Modern) - has always been more popular.

There are biologists and flower-lovers. One interest may lead to the other, but there's no particular reason why it should. Flower-lovers may become formal flower-arrangers, or large-scale flower growers. Biologists may end up doing chemistry. That's just how things are.

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