[lit-ideas] Re: Poetry x 2 = Sabbatical

  • From: JimKandJulieB@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sat, 14 Oct 2006 04:47:39 EDT

<<Combining these observations, I
see a familiar conversational  pattern: A says X, B hears Y, A
complains that B isn't listening properly. B  replys that what B heard
was Y. A and B talk past each  other>> 
I thought this thread was  about poetry, not marriage.... 
Julie Krueger 

========Original  Message========     Subj: [lit-ideas] Re: Poetry x 2 = 
Sabbatical  Date: 10/13/2006 9:26:30 P.M. Central Standard Time  From: 
_john.mccreery@xxxxxxxxxx (mailto:john.mccreery@xxxxxxxxx)   To: 
_lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx (mailto:lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx)   Sent on:    
I have been following with delight the discussion  of poetry. Here are
a few random thoughts, scattered along the way.

1.  Mike makes a strong case, a la reader-response theory, that a poem
is what  the reader makes of it, which may be very different, indeed,
from whatever  the poet intended. Judith notes that Romantic poets, in
particular, wanted  very much, indeed, to attract attention to
themselves and their personal  stories. Combining these observations, I
see a familiar conversational  pattern: A says X, B hears Y, A
complains that B isn't listening properly. B  replys that what B heard
was Y. A and B talk past each other until they come  to blows. go off
in a huff, or, like two Englishmen at a bar, give it up and  buy each
other a beer.

2. I note, too, that all of the references so  far are to Western,
largely English-speaking, poets. This reminds me to  recommend one of
my favorite books,

Traditional Chinese Poetry and  Poetics' Omen of the World. By STEPHEN
OWEN. Madison: University of Wisconsin  Press, 1985. vii, 303 pp.

Owen's central point is that every art of  poetry (and, yes, there are
many, depending on time and place) assumes a  corresponding art of
readership. This explains, among other things, why  readers who bring
an unanticipated art of reading to a poem may find it  unintelligible,
or not very good at all in terms of what they expect from a  poem.

To illustrate his point, Owen compares the English Romantics with  the
great T'ang Dynastic lyric poet Du Fu. In translation, Du Fu  comes
across as trite and banal, leaving Western readers to wonder why  many
Chinese consider him China's greatest poet. The problem, says Owen,  is
that Western readers do what they learn in school, follow  the
Romantics' example and look for a "deeper" message somewhere  "behind"
the poem. What they lack is what Du Fu and other classical  Chinese
poets assumed, that the meaning of the poem is right there on  the
surface--to anyone, that is, whose education in the Chinese  classics
allows them to recognize that, for example, that the mention of a  full
moon seen from a certain place while sailing down the Yellow  River
evokes a huge array of allusions to previous poems and  commentators.

The Western reader sees only "Full moon rising over X [a  place name
she doesn't recognize] and says, "How banal." A Chinese reader  steeped
in the classics is instantly aware of the allusions the image  evokes
and how they reinforce or conflict with those evoked by the  preceding
or following image that may seem, by itself, equally banal to  the
untutored. He will also know that when the poem was written Du Fu  was
fleeing down the river from the sack of Chang-an, the T'ang  imperial
capital, by An Lushan, a Turkish general in the service of the  T'ang,
who had risen against the emperor following an infamous affair  with
the emperor's favorite concubine. It is the incident and  the
complexity of Du Fu's response to it as revealed by his allusions  in
which its intended reader finds the power of the poem.

3. I would  also like to mention a book I am currently reading, Eiko
Ikegami's _Bonds of  Civility: Aesthetic Networks and the Political
Origins of Japanese  Culture_.  One of her examples is _renga_ (linked
poetry), which was  produced at events where crowds of poets would
compete by adding verses to a  collectively produced poem on a set
topic. Ikegami sees _renga_ as the  prototype for what she calls
"aesthetic publics" and writes,

"The  delights and satisfactions of participatioin in aesthetic publics
were  summarized by one enthusiast's claim that 'nothing is more fun
than doing  _renga_--a line that was given to the husband in a
_kyougen_ comedy of the  medieval period. In this play, the feisty wife
threatens to leave her husband  because he attends too many linked
verse sessions and spends to much of their  money doing so. After a
major quarrel, the wife declares her intention to  move out. To win her
back, the husband recites a line of poetry-- to which  the wife wisely
replies with a witty poem of her own. The couple is  reconciled when
the husband proposes to enjoy _renga_ with his wife at  home."

On the one hand, _renga_ is a far cry from the poem seen as  an
effusion of individual genius in the Romantic tradition. On the  other,
its role in this anecdote is also a far cry from the pleasure of  the
solitary reader to which Mike  appeals.



John McCreery
The Word  Works, Ltd., Yokohama,  JAPAN
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