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poetic language (post poem edits)


dedalus
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Poems, you know

have little to do with fancy language.

There is no need to use

special words which you would

never use in daily speech.

 

You would not say, 'Hark, the dawn!'

to your mama, nor would you remark

that the raiments of night unfold the stars

as you talk & laugh with the boys,

so why the hell do you do it now?

 

----------------------------------------

Post-poem:

 

Keep language simple. You need to keep close

to the smells, and to the brightness and shade,

to the colours, the sublety of changes,

the roughness and smoothness of touch,

to the sudden sound that turns your head,

the tang of the pickles and mustard,

to the shapes and the sudden movements,

the instant flash of a blade, the way time

stops. It does in a crisis. That split second of disbelief

is what military training aims to dispel. And so,

when in a suburban MacDonald's that deranged stranger

slits the throat of your companion, just like that,

you shoot him (American version), or you knock him

on the head (European version) and call the police.

The police come in and put up crime-scene ribbons;

the colours may vary, but this is what they do.

 

So, anyway, you don't proceed or glide down to the Mall.

You go there. You don't partake of light refreshment,

you have a coffee, a snack, or lunch. Likewise, you don't

'sincerely' regret the effects of collateral damage, you admit

you've killed hundreds of innocent women and children.

Language can be dangerous, misleading, often a total lie,

in the sense that verbal markers completely lose their meaning

when connections are lost to the things they describe.

I am no great fan of 'heightened' language, I have seen too much

of it put to abuse. Elections, for example. I would say to young poets

(and to the older ones, also) that there is no need for any special

poetic language, and that it is generally better, ever and always,

to employ the demotic, to write in the way you think and talk.

Edited by dedalus

Drown your sorrows in drink, by all means, but the real sorrows can swim

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Nobody will listen, of course, because stilted or heightened language is hardwired to the concept of "poetry" .... :wacko:... but it was nice to get it off my chest!

Drown your sorrows in drink, by all means, but the real sorrows can swim

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There's much merit in what you say although the composition and appreciation of poetry is as variable as music is diverse in it's own genres. One takes pleasure where one finds it.

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But Alas! I fancy "Hark!" Kidding.:)) I enjoyed how you tied in the advice about poetry with the sophistry of evildoers, and the point of that connection is understood.

 

But I think a good vocabulary makes for much more interesting poems, and I hope you don't mean I should write poems in my junior high venacular, lol. No, I don't think it's the vocabulary. I think it's highfalutin, archaic language against which you rail. Wait a minute ... Should that sentence structure be "I think you're railing against highfalutin, archaic language"? :wacko: :)

 

But I tend to agree with Benjamin. Despite trends, it's all subjective. One of my favorite poems by a favorite poet, Edgar Bowers, is "The Astronomers of Mont Blanc". The language in that poem is characterized by the author of this article as "slightly removed from everyday usage" and (as the author of the article points out) by critic Gordon Harvey as having "newness of sense, antiquity of voice." It's not every day junior high. It's not every day university level. It's not even "every day." It's its own.

 

Tony

Here is a link to an index of my works on this site: tonyv's Member Archive topic

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Of course there is poetic language, but it is not for me to describe define it for that is a lengthy undertaking that has been beaten over its 'pink ears' by many others better qualified than I. And many hold poetry to be indeed a special kind of language that can be written in either of the two well defined modes of composition, namely verse and prose.

 

What you probably mean that this 'language' does not have to resort to poeticisms, i.e., terms and phrases that were once, in some circles and certain ages/periods, deemed as indispensible for a 'verbal composition' to be considered poetry.

 

There were such 'gems' as azure (sky blue) skies, aquamarine (sea green) waters, eglantine (having needles) cacti, alabaster (gypsum white) limbs and amaranth eyes, just to name a few. Add to that a legion of such generally inoffensive pairings as murmuring brooks, wayward breezes, tempestuous storms, silken tresses, emerald leaves, glide down to the mall (as you say) etc. that were standard grist for the poetasters mill but would be seen as archaic today.

 

We are now urged to tell our 'stories' using 'fresh images' and, as an analytically minded linguist, I dispair, because there are not that many apt modifiers that can be used for a given object/item/idea without making the poem sound stilted and unimaginative.

 

As for tonyv's thought about using vernacular speech, it is OK but only if the poet lets the characters (persona) used and used convincingly.

 

I am pleasantly surprised that we are now having a conversation that is centered not only on your poem but also about the writing of poems in general. There should be more of that re any 'significant' poem posted, because doing that on Discussion seems to not attract interest, perhaps because there is no example on which to center any consideration of writing skills that apply. For my money, we are wanna-be poets and should delve into writing in poetic ways rather than to insist what we post is truely finished work.

 

I cannot resist harping on that the bigger ones vocabulary the easier it is to find the right words the instant the subject, theme and mental images for a poem spring to one's mind.

 

You, Brendan, write well, too much so to have to be this lengthy. The quintessential poem should tend to greater brevity and should let the poet's emotion/attitude shine through using words that are, after all, prosy and the ones we are stuck with. It is the way we bring them together that counts.

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I am pleasantly surprised that we are now having a conversation that is centered not only on your poem but also about the writing of poems in general. There should be more of that re any 'significant' poem posted, because doing that on Discussion seems to not attract interest, perhaps because there is no example on which to center any consideration of writing skills that apply. For my money, we are wanna-be poets and should delve into writing in poetic ways rather than to insist what we post is truely finished work.

 

This is a thoughtful comment and a good place to start. I find myself in agreement with the expressed reservations of Benjamin and Tony above because I certainly don't want to restrict poetry to the relentless straitjacket of the vernacular!! But that's not really what I was getting at ...

 

Overall, I tend to shy away from artificial or consciously "enhanced" forms of expression when I write a piece since I don't really see the need for them. The inventive use of vocabulary or the employment of entirely unexpected collocations is another matter entirely, a la Gerard Manley Hopkins (a Jesuit priest, one can only imagine the strains he was under) and any number of others, not least Willy Shakespeare who introduced more clichés into the language than any other poet I can think of. NOW they are clichés, simply from centuries of repetition, but they were fresh and newly-minted when he wrote them! I believe there's room in poetry for all kinds of verbal acrobatics and eccentricities, but ultimately it all comes down to the skill and accuracy with which language is handled. What I was getting after in the rant - sorry, poem - above is don't fall into the trap of thinking poetry has to create an idealised world and use specialised non-normal language in which the moon is always a 'shining orb' and bodily functions never happen.

 

As for brevity ... convince me. I'm not so sure.

 

Brendan

Drown your sorrows in drink, by all means, but the real sorrows can swim

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I am pleasantly surprised that we are now having a conversation that is centered not only on your poem but also about the writing of poems in general. There should be more of that re any 'significant' poem posted, because doing that on Discussion seems to not attract interest, perhaps because there is no example on which to center any consideration of writing skills that apply. For my money, we are wanna-be poets and should delve into writing in poetic ways rather than to insist what we post is truely finished work.

 

This is a thoughtful comment and a good place to start. I find myself in agreement with the expressed reservations of Benjamin and Tony above because I certainly don't want to restrict poetry to the relentless straitjacket of the vernacular!! But that's not really what I was getting at ...

 

Overall, I tend to shy away from artificial or consciously "enhanced" forms of expression when I write a piece since I don't really see the need for them. The inventive use of vocabulary or the employment of entirely unexpected collocations is another matter entirely, a la Gerard Manley Hopkins (a Jesuit priest, one can only imagine the strains he was under) and any number of others, not least Willy Shakespeare who introduced more clichés into the language than any other poet I can think of. NOW they are clichés, simply from centuries of repetition, but they were fresh and newly-minted when he wrote them! I believe there's room in poetry for all kinds of verbal acrobatics and eccentricities, but ultimately it all comes down to the skill and accuracy with which language is handled. What I was getting after in the rant - sorry, poem - above is don't fall into the trap of thinking poetry has to create an idealised world and use specialised non-normal language in which the moon is always a 'shining orb' and bodily functions never happen.

 

As for brevity ... convince me. I'm not so sure.

 

Brendan

 

The one thing that stands out is "enhanced" for that can be applied to a multiplicity of "sins". Be nice if it was possible to be more specific which I grant might not be. Can we agree on that LANGUAGE is its own barrier in explaining itself? What I think I mean that any few words we try to explain the 'full' and 'true' meaning are themselves in need each of further explaining them. Meanwhile we are left to comprehend a world that is, in some ways, incomprehensible.

 

One thing we should bear in mind that all the 'form' poems I can think off were, at some point, nonce forms. They were imitated because they succeeded in being admired and enjoyed by many. Unfortunately, most of the imitators never dig into just why and how the gruesome details of the craft have been deployed to get the effect. Yes, clichees can be used effectively, but the art is when and how to use them (sparingly?). why thestructure etc. works

 

As for brevity, can you say that after finishing the Illiad you can summarize, in a rather short paragraph, what was theoverall immage that gave you enjoyment? The point I am trying (and failing) to make that a poem's length should be no more than it takes to create a single emotionally concise reaction. That means you do not have to beat the reader over the head with numerous parallel images, certainly apt by themselves, is a requirement in pleasing the reader. As you see, I am entertaining the same fallacy I am trying to prove. However, it is certainthat the tougher poems to create are the haiku, the Crapsey cinquain and many other of the shorter syllabic forms and such free verse ones like the "So much depends upon...."

 

At the bottom of a 'significant' poem is a most prosy idea, whereas the telling/showing of it must be rendered in such a way that the reaction to the poem can be shared, on a strictly emotional/knee jerk level, with most, if not all, readers regardless of their erudition.

 

I look forward to seeing more of this kind of conversation.

Edited by waxwings
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... we are left to comprehend a world that is, in some ways, incomprehensible.

 

That's the nub of the matter right there. Language in all cases is an attempt to absorb and describe the world we live in. Some languages are better adapted to the task than others and English, although widely used, is not as finely tuned as, say, Greek or Gaelic, or even Japanese, in terms of the subtlety of its verbs and inflections. It has a grand vocabulary but a clunky grammatical structure and a totally incomprehensible phonic system (spelling to you and me) compared to other older languages, largely due to the mongrel, patched-together nature of its history and development. The heart of any language is its verb structure, the way it deals with divisions and finer gradations of time, and in this area alone English runs into deep trouble. Constructions such as "my friends may possibly have arrived at the hotel in the place we intend to meet even before I have left the place I am currently occupying" needs mental effort and a lot of words to convey. No, don't ask me to translate that into Gaelic, Greek or Japanese!! Generally, though, it's a lot easier and quicker to express the same rather complex time relationships in other languages. Where English excels is in its wonderfully rich vocabulary which draws equally on Germanic and Latinate roots as well as a huge influx of ancient Greek and Latin terms from the 16th century onwards (think of all our medical and academic vocabulary). Shakespeare alone introduced hundreds if not thousands of new words. As far as vocabulary goes English is far ahead of its nearest competitor with 500,000 words (approx) in the Oxford English Dictionary compared to 80,000 (approx) for Spanish.

 

Just a few random thoughts. I'll stop here before I start writing a full-blown essay!!

 

B :icon_cyclops:

Drown your sorrows in drink, by all means, but the real sorrows can swim

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... we are left to comprehend a world that is, in some ways, incomprehensible.

 

That's the nub of the matter right there. Language in all cases is an attempt to absorb and describe the world we live in. Some languages are better adapted to the task than others and English, although widely used, is not as finely tuned as, say, Greek or Gaelic, or even Japanese, in terms of the subtlety of its verbs and inflections. It has a grand vocabulary but a clunky grammatical structure and a totally incomprehensible phonic system (spelling to you and me) compared to other older languages, largely due to the mongrel, patched-together nature of its history and development. The heart of any language is its verb structure, the way it deals with divisions and finer gradations of time, and in this area alone English runs into deep trouble. Constructions such as "my friends may possibly have arrived at the hotel in the place we intend to meet even before I have left the place I am currently occupying" needs mental effort and a lot of words to convey. No, don't ask me to translate that into Gaelic, Greek or Japanese!! Generally, though, it's a lot easier and quicker to express the same rather complex time relationships in other languages. Where English excels is in its wonderfully rich vocabulary which draws equally on Germanic and Latinate roots as well as a huge influx of ancient Greek and Latin terms from the 16th century onwards (think of all our medical and academic vocabulary). Shakespeare alone introduced hundreds if not thousands of new words. As far as vocabulary goes English is far ahead of its nearest competitor with 500,000 words (approx) in the Oxford English Dictionary compared to 80,000 (approx) for Spanish.

 

Just a few random thoughts. I'll stop here before I start writing a full-blown essay!!

 

B :icon_cyclops:

 

I could be the first to lambaste English which, in spite of being the mongrel outcome of two individually well tuned languages, ha still managed to support some of the great poetry of the world. My own has been argued by some linguists to be the Proto-Indoeuropean ? precursor of both Slavic and Germanic, but I find that any language has ways to expess certain notions better than any other. I have not studied Greek enough to judge, but Japanese seems, because of its SOV structure and all the postfixes as having its own shortcomings in spite of that being syllabic it does look incapble of compounding syllables into neologisms as other tongues can.

 

As you have so entertainingly shown, what English lacks is verb inflection to show a variety of moods beyond indicative, imperative and subjunctive. How about optative? Some languages are said to have, oh horrors, moods requiring the fingers of two, even three hands to count them.

 

I would like to make two more significant points. In the poetic mood one should compare synonims and use those that are less practical/mundane/mechanistic. And I resent the thought that the majority of the literate are hard-wired to expect those 'elevated epithets'. That is for those that never will join forums like this.

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Japanese is a peculiar language, with no known "relatives". This adds to the overly-developed Japanese sense of their own uniqueness: their whole mental world is divided into "us" and "the rest of the planet". Sounds almost American, on the surface, but it goes a lot deeper :-8) Structurally speaking the language can appear somewhat primitive since it lacks articles, declensions, relative pronouns (and thus dependent clauses) but it has a finally nuanced vocabulary and a positive genius for compression. The continuing use of Chinese characters with multiple readings according to context (despite the fact that this system is totally unsuited to Japanese syntax, requiring the employment of not one but two separate syllabaries for grammatical markers and foreign terms, respectively) allows them to create new words and concepts with relative ease and efficiency by conjoining 2 or more Chinese characters from among the thousands available.

 

What's to resent about expectations of heightened language, since 99.999% of the world's population doesn't take part on poetic fora? What we are dealing with, in consequence, is the image of poetry and not the reality!!

 

Incidentally, this article ('Where is Poetry Going?') from the current New York Review of Books may be of passing interest.

 

Brendan

Drown your sorrows in drink, by all means, but the real sorrows can swim

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I have nothing whatever to add to this invigorating discussion (and I mean that sincerely, no sarcasm, here). But I have enjoyed this exchange, immensely. I love words and am ridiculously impressed by those with huge vocabularies. This was quite enlightening from both perspectives.

 

mq

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Hi moonqueen (weird name, but nice!)

 

I think this is what we do in downtime. You can't come up with poems every day; in fact, you sit around waiting for the damn things to come down to you. So we get into these little discussions. Basically we are trying to explain to each other what we don't quite understand, trying (rather ineffectually, in my opinion) to exert some kind of control over it. What I mean by this is that you don't sit down at a desk and quietly write a poem. You have dreams at night, for example, and you can't remember them but bits of them linger. You're walking down the road, driving your car, sitting at work, and all of a sudden a great idea or a couple of killer lines fall right down to you from nowhere, out of the blue. It's all so messy, so arbitrary, so totally demanding in its timing! Well, these are the seeds of truly good poems which come down once or twice a year. At other times you rack your brains and happily bang away. It's a totally idiotic thing to do (I know) and I call it a hobby ... but it's more than that, it can take over your life.

 

Slán anois,

M'naan (Brendan)

Drown your sorrows in drink, by all means, but the real sorrows can swim

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I think this is what we do in downtime. You can't come up with poems every day; in fact, you sit around waiting for the damn things to come down to you. So we get into these little discussions. Basically we are trying to explain to each other what we don't quite understand, trying (rather ineffectually, in my opinion) to exert some kind of control over it. What I mean by this is that you don't sit down at a desk and quietly write a poem. You have dreams at night, for example, and you can't remember them but bits of them linger. You're walking down the road, driving your car, sitting at work, and all of a sudden a great idea or a couple of killer lines fall right down to you from nowhere, out of the blue. It's all so messy, so arbitrary, so totally demanding in its timing! Well, these are the seeds of truly good poems which come down once or twice a year. At other times you rack your brains and happily bang away. It's a totally idiotic thing to do (I know) and I call it a hobby ... but it's more than that, it can take over your life.

I agree. When I'm blocked (which is most of the time, or a lot), I try to keep active reading and learning from others and discussing. I figure even if it's as uncreative as making a reply, at least it's writing, lol. But you have echoed what Larkin said in an interview when asked about his daily routine when he was writing:

 

" ... And really it worked very well, I don’t think you can write a poem for more than two hours. After that you’re going round in circles, and it’s much better to leave it for twenty-four hours, by which time your subconscious or whatever has solved the block and you’re ready to go on .... "

 

Robert Lowell, prolific as he was, said the same thing when asked about his teaching job. He said it filled the time, because one can't write poetry all the time. But Brendan, someone as prolific as you must be writing a lot if not all the time ...

 

Tony

 

PS -- thanks also for the linked article. I'll go ahead and read it now ...

Here is a link to an index of my works on this site: tonyv's Member Archive topic

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Interesting and brave poem, Bren.

And I totally agree with this:

 

I think this is what we do in downtime. You can't come up with poems every day; in fact, you sit around waiting for the damn things to come down to you. So we get into these little discussions. Basically we are trying to explain to each other what we don't quite understand, trying (rather ineffectually, in my opinion) to exert some kind of control over it. What I mean by this is that you don't sit down at a desk and quietly write a poem. You have dreams at night, for example, and you can't remember them but bits of them linger. You're walking down the road, driving your car, sitting at work, and all of a sudden a great idea or a couple of killer lines fall right down to you from nowhere, out of the blue. It's all so messy, so arbitrary, so totally demanding in its timing! Well, these are the seeds of truly good poems which come down once or twice a year. At other times you rack your brains and happily bang away. It's a totally idiotic thing to do (I know) and I call it a hobby ... but it's more than that, it can take over your life.

 

Thanks!

 

Aleksandra

The poet is a liar who always speaks the truth - Jean Cocteau

History of Macedonia

 

 

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