Earl Gray

Earl Gray
"You can argue with me but, in the end, you'll have to face that fact that you're arguing with a squirrel." - Earl Gray

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Poetry without Originality or Technique?

"Whatever is too stupid to say can be sung."

- Joseph Addison (1672-1719)

All of us understand that poetry is not a matter of what we say but how we say it. Typically, this involves a mixture of original expression and poetic technique. Can we have poetry lacking one or both of these?


Let's start with an absence of novel expression. As Addison pointed out three centuries ago, most song lyrics would certainly qualify. We'll confine our discussion to the written or spoken word, though.

The Cliché Collage

Take a look at Elegy for Eva:

The story is certainly a poignant one. In terms of technique and form the elegy is reasonably competent iambic pentameter. If those expressions seem familiar to you it's because they are the titles of some of the songs that Eva Cassidy covered during her all-too-brief career. We call this collection of set phrases a "cliché collage". The hypertext, as published in "November Sky Poetry", allows the reader to click on those titles and, barring broken links, bring up videos of Eva playing those tunes:

It's true you've changed. You are at the dark end
of the street
now. If there is time after time
I'll meet with you not here in fields of gold
canola, not by the old barquero's boat,
not where the water is wide at river's bend,
not under those tall trees. In Georgia? I'm
resigned to joining you beyond the cold
and tears, in heaven (if fate will grace us both).

In the early morning, rain reminds songbirds
that summertime is over. The rainbow is swept
away with autumn leaves. Every color wades
into your blue eyes. Crying in the rain
dilutes the drops from cheek to cheek like words
forgotten yesterday, like vows unkept
or curses in a fever that soon fades.
A red, red rose is all that may remain.

How can I keep from singing "Kathy's Song"?
It has the drizzling rain, the street and you.
I read the letter, where you wrote that time
is a healer
, death a nightbird at your door,
but these two cures are taking far too long.
At least I can imagine drinks will do,
at last, what can't be done by notes and rhyme.
Perhaps it doesn't matter any more.

Now let's look at an absence of original language and poetic technique:

The Reverser:

We had poetry long before prosody. Preliterate societies developed the latter largely to preserve the former [in memory]. Consider "Lost Generation" by "metroamv" (Jonathan Reed):

IMHO, there isn't an iota of original language or poetic technique in any of the text. If you find this rant a somewhat pleasurable viewing experience, as I did, the issue moves to the nature of that enjoyment. Was it a matter of saying:

  1. "...that was fun. Moving along now." Or,

  2. "...that was fun. If a person had the time and energy he or she might like to memorize it...maybe even perform it."

#1 is the prose experience, #2 the poetic.

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