Thursday, October 26, 2006

True or False?

From the October issue of Poetry comes this provocative little nugget from South Philly-born poet W.S. Di Piero: "Some shy from putting prose out there because it's a giveaway. You can't fake it. It reveals quality of mind, for better or worse, in a culture where poems can be faked."

3 comments:

  1. Susan Balée3:34 PM

    I'm with him. Di Piero is a guy whose essay on South Phila. dialects has hung with me for years. Its title was "Gots Is What You Got." I'm pretty sure it found its way into _Best American Essays_, and deservedly.

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  2. In Human, All-Too-Human, Nietzsche wrote: Thoughts in a poem. The poet presents his thoughts festively, on the carriage of rhythm: usually because they could not walk.

    As with so much that Nietzsche wrote, this is open to some interpretation.

    It could be read as praising poetry, as meaning that straight prose can't adequately express the most profound thoughts. Given Nietzche's poetic writing style, this might be a sound interpretation.

    However, for whatever reason, I first read "because [the thoughts] could not walk" as meaning that the thoughts didn't have legs, couldn't make it on their own, needed rhythm and style to make up for the lack of substance.

    I don't know that this is how most people read the quote, or that this is how Nietzsche meant it, or that Nietzsche is right about this even if he intended it in the second way. It's just that the quote came to me when I saw the Di Piero comment.

    I write prose and don't have much to say about poetry. But I can think of works of dramatic art (novels, movies, stories, plays, pop songs) that, whether subtle or not, comment on some social or political issue. Often, in terms of "quality of mind," such comments would never be taken seriously if not for the "carriage of rhythm."

    This is related to Frank Wilson's recent posts about politics and art. One need not have evidence or a sound logical argument when using art to comment on a social or political issue. People don't ask for empirical evidence or look for holes in the argument when there is no argument, but where instead there's a story. The drama can lend the comment an air of competence. If the same views were expressed without the trappings of art and if the views were subject to the scrutiny we would give to a different form--a persuasive essay, perhaps--the air of competence and substance might vanish. But I don't see this as a poetry-prose divide. I can think of literary essays that are highly praised and included in every college freshman composition anthology, based on the style. They too depend on a carriage of rhythm and often cannot walk.

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  3. Susan,
    As usual, you're right. "Gots" was in the 1995 BAE. It's also collected in Di Piero's "Shooting the Works: On Poetry and Pictures" (Published by Triquarterly in 1996 and apparently still in print).
    Thanks for the tip.
    JB

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