Friday, May 15, 2009

“Poetry” vs. “Poetic”

Gabe left a response to a recent post about where to find poetry suggesting that in talking about the subject, the term “poetic” may turn off fewer people than “poetry” does. “For whatever reason,” he writes, “there seems to be a certain stigma attached to the word ‘poetry’, while people seemingly use the word ‘poetic’ with a sense of freedom.” I wrote back:
I’m with you that “poetry” drags a lot of cultural freight in its train, while “poetic’s” gone feather-light and attaches itself to movies, basketball players, or flower arrangements without anyone batting an eye. It reminds me a little of Robert Musil’s bit about a “racehorse of genius” in The Man Without Qualities, where our hero, who’s blown his youth striving to be a genius, reads a newspaper article in which the word gets applied in the Sports section to a thoroughbred. Maybe the Modernist equivalent of our habit of calling power forwards “poetry in motion.”

What do you think the reasons are for the stigma attached to “poetry”? It’s supposed be unpopular because of its difficulty. Maybe it has as much to do though with the way poetry habitually gets walled off from everyday life, a sacred space where you can dump all your sincere (and often not particularly difficult) feelings about the war, the miracle of parenthood, or your grandmother’s shingles in a way that’s not permitted in “real life,” where the message is often that nobody much cares.

On the other side, I wonder what it is “poetic” does to avoid the bad odor of “poetry.” Is it the promise of poetry—elevated feelings, a sense of heightened meaning, the compulsion of a significant sigh at the end—without the time investment in all those baffling strings of words? (I don’t mean to say this is what poetry is, but what I think people who prefer “poetic” to “poetry” may mean when they call something that’s not poetry “poetic.”)

Oddly, I’m more often baffled by poetry’s popularity than its neglect. The other night a self-identified slam poet read on the radio to a theater audience. The hollers and whistles at the end, for work that seemed to me to be performing the gestures normally expected of poetry without being especially poetic, surprised me. I’m not used to people reacting to poetry that way, and somehow couldn’t believe they were really applauding for the poetry, but for themselves: for their delight in not hating the thing they expected to giggle or yawn at. How paranoid is that?


Philip Metres said...

damn, you're up early.

Matt said...

some people don't even like "poet"...

Brennen Wysong said...

For the yeoman and his ox cart, poetry generally smells like lilies and wilts just as easily. And while Bukowski might have roughened up the notion of poetry for a short time, many menfolk probably associate poetry with the Romantics and think it soft.

I went to a reading at Pete's Candy Store in Brooklyn a month or so ago, and a patron passing by the space going to the back garden couldn't resist gruffly expressing his derision -- not for the quality of the verse, of course, but for the performance of verse in general. It seemed as if he'd just been plucked out of frat to land there, beer in hand.

By the same token, when I went the the highfalutin Whitney to hear the flarfists and conceptualists, it was hard to miss the absolute delight the audience took in some of the poetry. The bawdy, naughty talk of flarfist, I thought, would appeal to a much larger audience than those that generally gather in such a museum space. And who could resist Bok? He could have taken on Darren Robinson of The Fat Boys in a human beatbox challenge and held his own.

konrad said...

What is interesting to me about this post is that you used what appears to be a doctored photo of someone who kind of looks like Julius Erving. But the guy's hips are above the hoop! Dr. J was good, but not that good.

I think one of the conflicts that's coming up here is between poetry and spectacle - as if those two are antipodes.

It seems like only a poet would say poetry has a "stigma." As a practice, like any other, it just has its place in the scheme of things. As a metaphor, "poetic," in common parlance, just means some kind of excellence.

The radio people applauding were acknowledging a good performance, but also conceivably, and cynically, acknowledging that they had to be enthusiastic to justify the expense and hassle they underwent to become an audience. I'm surprised that you were surprised, considering that you have received enthusiastic ovations after some of your performances, too, and you're hardly a slamster.

So do you know if that photo is faked? Is that part of an implicit commentary?