Thursday, July 22, 2010

An Ars Poetica In Fragments

Melbourne Alley 2004

I am not familiar with Jennifer Moxley's work, though I have come across her name before, usually on Ron Silliman's blog. And it is Ron I owe thanks to for providing a link to her recent Fragments of a Broken Poetics on Poetry Daily.

Moxley concludes her series with an Afterword, in which she describes how 'three French points of contact converged to create the conditions for the writing and occasion of these fragments', such as René Char's Fureur et mystère

particularly his writing on the architecture of the poem, "Partage formel" ("The Formal Share")—that sparked some new thinking in me. Char's use of aphorism, as well as his delightfully fanciful logic, suggested a refreshing way to avoid the line-in-the-sand rigidity of writing a contractual poetics—those manifestos of orthodoxy that, in laying down the poetic law, always manage to spontaneously recruit an army of cops to enforce it. Reading these statements activated my critical muse and I began to write my own series of aphoristic statements; to think from where I was, to try and state—simply, concisely—what I believed at that moment about the poetic art.

I am glad she spared us yet another orthodox manifesto. And I have a fondness for aphorism (Auden and Don Paterson come to mind, as do Beckett's versions of Chamfort). I like the form's constraints, the way it pushes a thought or idea to be fully born then cuts the cord. And the aphorism's yen for clarity can certainly be refreshing, especially when many contemporary offstream poets seem less interested in fragmentation than disintegration; their poetry (or 'poetics') is all too often bursting to explain itself while simultaneously tightening the gag. Anyway, here's a small selection of Moxley's [apologies for the disrupted formatting]:


A poet only needs one poem, a poem only one reader. Moving from singular to shared in this instance is a rudimentary economy. It is less affecting than a mortal kiss, more than a passing conversation. The poem will always provoke an acute desire to know its creator, "acute" because hopeless.


The idea of audience is a nuisance born of the need for spectacle. Poems haunting the precarious dialectic between existence and extinction do not need it. Their magic is dependent on the private experience of separate individuals.


Poets whose readings lead us to believe ourselves part of a spontaneous and instinctive consensus have left poetry behind. Perhaps for the better.


In poetry, as elsewhere, nature isn't what it used to be.


The book is the means, not the end. It should conform to the poem, not vice versa. Otherwise the imagination becomes a small box, which thinks only of the larger box it wishes to resemble. An ideal book is a bed: a comforting place in which poems can sleep while awaiting illumination. Both poem and book, however, are subject to the capricious lens of human attention.


A momentary bewilderment arouses the mind. Many words, lines, and phrases may temporarily baffle without spoiling the reading experience as a whole.


The poet is buried in the obliterated whiteness beneath the dark letters of poem.


Poems demand a concentrated lingering to which we are unaccustomed. This is why they cause discomfort. When we stand still in one place, attempting to document and respect the details, we feel as vulnerable as a small creature in an open field beneath avian predators. Rapid and sequential page turning gives us a sense of progress and accomplishment, relieving us from the double threat of frustration and impatience.


Poetry is not politically efficacious in countries where it is not valued as a cultural necessity by the general populace.

I am not sure all of these work (though this may just be due to my own misunderstanding). For example, I suspect IX may be read in at least two very different ways. And XXVIII seems, to me, a bit overwrought. Overall though, many of Moxley's Fragments did what good aphorisms ought to do: they made me think.