Saturday, May 10, 2008

Now Reading

I am reading Michael Theune's Structure & Surprise: Engaging Poetic Turns (Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 2007). The book is a collection of essays--Theune contributes one himself and co-writes another with Prageeta Sharma. Mary Szybist, Mark Yakich, Corey Marks and others also have work in the collection.

Theune writes in his Introduction:

Poetic structure is, simply, the pattern of a poem's turning. As such, poetic structure identifies a vital feature of poems: the best poems often include convincing, surprising turns. T.S. Eliot calls the poems turn "one of the most important means of poetic effect since Homer," and in a lecture called "Levels and Opposites: Structure in Poetry," Randall Jarrell claims that "a successful poem starts from one position and ends at a very different one; yet there has been no break in the unity of the poem." More than any other aspect of poetry, it is structure that reveals how poems remain whole and unified even as they move, leap, turn.

First Impressions: This is an intriguing book. I must say that after flipping through it last night I am far more interested in how the writers dissect the poems than I am convinced of Theune's thesis. It will be difficult to persuade me, for example, that "the pattern of the poetic turn" is a complete (or even, a very satisfactory) explanation of the "poetic structure" in Brigit Pegeen Kelly's "The White Rider: Old Pilgrim Cemetery," or a host of other contemporary poems which feature multiple narratives arrayed across extended lyric forms. One might as well argue that the structure of a Ferrari can best be understood by remarking upon the pattern of its turning radius. It seems to me that the coach work, the chassis, the red paint, the fuel injection ports, the sticky tires and the 12-cylinder engine have something rather more to do with not only our sense, but also our understanding of what a Ferrari is.


Blogger Michael said...

Hi, Greg,

Thanks so much for taking some time with S&S, and for posting on it. Very cool!

A quick clarification: in my intro to S&S, I do not in any way intend to suggest that structure is the single or core essence of poetry. Image, form, syntax, etc, are all vital elements of poems.

What I do mean to do is to advocate strongly for greater attention to poetic structure, which, as you note, S&S defines as the pattern of a poem's turning.

Such advocacy is necessary because, on the one hand, the turn is a vital aspect of poetry (as my intro makes clear: all kinds of poems, and not just sonnets, employ turns), and, on the other hand, the turn has received (prior to the publication of S&S) almost no significant attention in contemporary poetry writing pedagogy.

I'm very glad you're enjoying the readings of the poems in S&S, Greg. The book has great contributors. I hope, though, that you're also intrigued by the book's other main offering: the next taxonomy of poetry that it provides, its whole new way of classifying (and thus conceptualizing, and thus, perhaps, considering the crafting of) poems.

My folks tell me that western MI is lovely right now. I hope and trust you're enjoying it!

All best,
Mike Theune

2:22 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

A comment on my previous comment: I wrote "next taxonomy," but I meant to write "new taxonomy." My bad.

2:28 PM  

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