Friday, February 11, 2005

TDV3: A Declaration Pro Forma

There has always been something in formalist language that’s rubbed me the wrong way, even as I learned to appreciate the fact of meter, its rhythm and its energy. This kind of poetry demotes the language to an almost colloquial speech, and most often a suburban one. It’s as if in order to defend the use of form and meter, those much abused poetic concepts accused of high crimes and misdemeanors, loyalty to past monarchies and treasonous acts against anything contemporary, formalist poets use the weapon of common language. Such poetry cannot be accused of being outdated or grandiose if the language is of the common man.

This defense has been built so close to the skin, that any criticism on formalist poetry is considered outrageous, an attack against form and meter itself, and therefore preposterous in and of itself. There they go again, attacking form and meter as something outdated and grandiose when we here know we’re just your average Joes working in a time-tested manner. But the attack, if we want to call it that, is on CONTENT, not form.

Brian Phillips on a message board has recently called it “contemporary life slipped too blithely into iambs, not contemporary life slipped into iambs at all.” There’s some truth in them there hills. There’s a kind of chic suburban aesthetic, where even journeys toward the promised land are demoted to the New Yorker meets the National Lampoon vacation in the desert gone awry. Hey, if you like it, fantastic. That’s your prerogative. Just don’t nuke the Continent when the attack is in your own backyard.

But my point is ultimately this. New Formalists do not own form and meter, despite their attempt sometimes to appropriate the matter. They only own their content. Which in my opinion can often be quite anemic, although not always. Still, meter is mine as well, and I intend to try some of this and some of that, and a little of that blithe thing too if I feel like it. That’s my dynamic prerogative while keeping it somewhat real.

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