Skip to main content

DISTANT READING

"Close Reading" is the term for a technique often used to read poems, or poetry that was instigated in the 1920s at Cambridge by several critics; and though it tends to be questioned now, most poetry book reviewers, and even most poetry critics, do, at least sometimes, read poems from a close reading perspective. And that's fine.

But I wish to assay something else, also, now.  Imagine if we only discussed the weather in Britain - the storm fronts, the cloud banks, the gale force winds, the light and heavy rains, even the snow - in terms of individual snowflakes or pellets of rain.  It wouldn't do - instead, we generalise; draw expansive maps, and look at much larger forces.

If one sees each poem as a drop of rain, or perhaps one weather event on one day, then by stepping back, we see a broader picture emerge.  Heaney as a warm summer breeze; Larkin as a squall.  This is not meant to be apt, just a lightness of touch.  But the idea is there - what is the distant reading of a poet? What does that look like?

I think that too often, poets and critics nowadays know too much - or think they do - about poets, poetries and poems.  After all, poems are an old technology, and how they are made has not changed much in 2,000 years.  We can all quickly understand why we do or do not support the lyric, the voice, the conceptual, the linguistically innovative, and so on - and we can quickly comprehend the mechanics of set poems.

What happens if one steps back into a fog bank, past the awards and the prizes, the certainties of greatness, and acclaim? What does one see, or feel, about contemporary poetry?  What vague notions, images, impressions, and reports from afar does one detect?

It is worth the effort to imagine ourselves way beyond a place where we think we know what a poem or poet is, even.  What else might be poetry? Is all poetry man-made?  Is it lasting? Impermanent?  Cold? Hard? What worlds are summoned and summed up therein? Perhaps let us resist pat maps and anatomies, new directions; old shibboleths.

From space, our poets are sometimes smaller, sometimes brighter, than we might think, and their work, as a whole, constellates a wide range of patterns, worth observing, apart from the need to hone in on anyone line or phrase. This is a breaking away from the human form the poem insists on, to the form an eye makes, distantly.

Just some thoughts, on the edge of a new year. It may be that we need to apply ideas of weirdness and speculative realism to the objects and things that are poems, and poets.

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

DANGER, MAN

Like a crazed killer clown, whether we are thrilled, horrified, shocked, or angered (or all of these) by Donald Trump, we cannot claim to be rid of him just yet. He bestrides the world stage like a silverback gorilla (according to one British thug), or a bad analogy, but he is there, a figure, no longer of fun, but grave concern.

There has long been a history of misogynistic behaviour in American gangster culture - one thinks of the grapefruit in the face in The Public Enemy, or Sinatra throwing a woman out of his hotel room and later commenting he didn't realise there was a pool below to break her fall, or the polluted womb in Pacino'sScarface... and of course, some gangsta rap is also sexist.  American culture has a difficult way with handling the combined aspects of male power, and male privilege, that, especially in heteronormative capitalist enclaves, where money/pussy both become grabbable, reified objects and objectives (The Wolf of Wall Street for instance), an ugly fus…

AMERICA PSYCHO

According to the latest CBS, ABC, etc, polls, Clinton is still likely to beat Trump - by percentile odds of 66% to 33% and change. But the current popular vote is much closer, probably tied with the error of margin, around 44% each. Trump has to win more key battleground states to win, and may not - but he is ahead in Florida...

We will all know, in a week, whether we live in a world gone madder, or just relatively mad.

While it seems likely calmer heads will prevail, the recent Brexit win shows that polls can mislead, especially when one of the options is considered a bit embarrassing, rude or even racist - and Trump qualifies for these, at least.

If 42-45% of Americans admit they would vote for Trump, what does that say about the ones not so vocal? For surely, they must be there, as well. Some of the undecided will slide, and more likely they will slide to the wilder and more exciting fringe candidate. As may the libertarians.

Eyewear predicts that Trump will just about manage to win th…

SEXTON SHORTLIST!

Announcing the Shortlist for the 2016 Sexton PrizeSeptember 13, 2016 / By Kelly Davio
Eyewear Publishing is pleased to announce the shortlist for the 2016 Sexton Prize. The finalists are, in no particular order, as follows:


THE BARBAROUS CENTURY, Leah Umansky
HISTORY OF GONE, Lynn Schmeidler
SEVERE CLEAR, Maya Catherine Popa
GIMME THAT. DON’T SMITE ME, Steve Kronen
SCHEHERAZADE AND OTHER REDEPLOYMENTS, David McAleavey
AN AMERICAN PURGATORY, Rebecca Gayle Howell
SIT IN THE DARK WITH ME, Jesse Lee Kercheval

The shortlist was selected by Eyewear’s Director Todd Swift with Senior Editor Kelly Davio. Don Share of Poetry Magazine will select the winning manuscript, which will be released at the 2017 AWP conference in Washington, D.C. The winner will be announced in October. 
Congratulations to our finalists!