Saturday, September 27, 2008

Hail Poetry!

Let's first clear the air by going over the 4 stumbling blocks to truth:

The Four Stumbling Blocks to Truth
Attributed to Fr. Roger Bacon, by Don Tarquino, Baron Corvo:
No. 1 - The Influence of Fragile or Unworthy Authority
No. 2 - Custom
No. 3 - The Imperfection of Undisciplined Senses
No. 4 - Concealment of Ignorance by Ostentation of Seeming Wisdom

All four of these are probably at work both in my thought- and writing-processes, so beware. Beware also, however, the same four stumbling blocks at work in your own thought- and reading-processes. Please embark upon these pages with the suspicion that I am a person of good will and sincere in my queries and proposals. I am suspecting the same of anyone who gets this far down the page, and I wish you well. May all our suspicions be confirmed in time.

Having “Hail Poetry” for a title for this post assumes that someone who reads this knows the words to Gilbert & Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance. Not likely. So, to explain: there is a bit during a confrontation between the Major General and the Pirate King after the Pirates are interrupted in their attempt to carry off and marry the Major General’s daughters. The Major General objects to Pirates as sons-in-law. The Pirates object to Major Generals as fathers-in-law, but are willing to set that aside.

Protesting against the characterization of their band as churlish bad guys, the Pirate King sings: “Although our dark career / Sometimes involves the crime of stealing, / We rather think that we’re / Not altogether void of feeling. / Although we live by strife, / We’re always sorry to begin it, / For what, we ask, is life / Without a touch of Poetry in it?”

Then all kneel and sing: “Hail, Poetry, thou heav’n-born maid! / Thou gildest e’en the pirate’s trade. / Hail, flowing fount of sentiment! / All hail! All hail! Divine emollient!”

So, Hail Poetry. What is life without a touch of it? These days it is just life. In G&S’s day the hail to Poetry was scathingly funny to the sophisticated audience. The music was as satirical as the words, mimicking and mocking Handel, the King’s pet composer. Yes, we are all too sophisticated these days for love and ponies and lyric melancholy.

Some issues for consideration.

- Has anything really new happened in the Arts of communication with words in the English language since 1945?

- Have the past hundred or so years of Western European literary culture been driven by embarrassment/anger over our own cultural failure?

- Are we decadent?

- Why don't you like poetry?
Is it because the only available options are (i) heartwarming crap; (ii) meandering prose broken up into short lines and published in the New Yorker; (iii) mystifying or stupid performance art; (iv) stuff not aimed at your particular demographic, which thus alienates you; (v) artsy word-games that are essentially just wanking; (vi) old-fashioned stuff that doesn't make sense in the 21st century; (vii) stuff that makes the educated elite feel less guilty or more awesome for being the educated elite; or (viii) TMI from people "expressing" themselves? OR
- Simply because it is not relevant to your interests?
- Because they made you read it in high school and high school sucked?
- Because nothing gold can stay?
- Because except for that one bit you had to memorize in high school that got you laid once or twice, poetry doesn't serve any useful purpose?
- Because that poetry-spouting bitch/jerk broke your heart?

- Does poetry today just need more tits and explosions? Just a little bit, maybe? Are tits and explosions the true poetry of our time?



PS- The obvious answer to one of the questions up there (anything new since 1945) is computers, but I don’t buy it. Poets and other artists were playing with computers and their potential in the creation of new forms of art back before WWII. Even random generation using mass-media (newspapers) started back in the 20s and before. What "computers" (the internet, more like) do for me is free me from a potentially depressing fixation on Emily Dickinson. Computers have changed distribution, but not enough, and not in the direction of really being something else completely. In part, I think, because there has not been enough recognition among the people who might enjoy a touch of poetry in their life and the people who could put it there.

12 comments:

Duke said...

I found your web site as a result of a search with Google: "ostentation of seeming wisdom". I first became aware of Bacon's 4 stumbling blocks to truth years ago when I saw them in a wall hanging in the home of my favorite mother-in-law, Wanda. Her version was more like your own -- and somewhat different from other seemingly reputable sources. I tried checking your source but found "Don Tarquino" was a novel be Frederick Rolfe, someone who claimed the title of Baron Corvo.

I did take the time to read the remainder of your post, carefully enough to realize you were in something of a serious funk at the time you wrote it. I hope things are much better for you now.

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