I have many things to write unto you
but I will not write with pen and ink
--JOHN the theologian
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John Horvath Jr
2001 Preface: The Roman world had Pax Romana; America had its brief Pax Americana; poetry has given me peace, Pax Poeta, a world I will endeavor to explore in these essays.
PAX POETA #1
[ from poetryrepairs 01.06:063]
2011 Preface After this and its partner Pax POETICA #2 [see next issue] I began a series of essays dealing with what I had learned in my formal education and what I learned as a poet of 50 yeras standing. I wanted to report from my formal education basically the NEW CRITICS of the 1930s through to the Phenomenologists but also I wanted to explore myself to find why I write as I do; what drew me to thoe scolars I read and what I took from them. .
Poetry is a verbal art, wrote Tomasheveski (Literature and Biography, 1923). Poetry is foremost the sounds and syllables of a speaker.
'Sound' manifests of an act, is not self generating, and implies a listener – an auditor/audience. 'Syllable' is that part of language which is its smallest unit – an 'ah' or 'a' as well as that briefest portion of natural event carried through the air. Sound is a matter of physics, whereas syllable is a matter of human choice (dogs do not universally 'bark' but in some language a frog does 'bark'; 'bark' is the social convention not the actual sound). A sound, any sound requires a definite initiator and receiver; 'syllable', more fluid, carries with it chosen, taught, or learned relationship. Sound may be random; syllable, never so.
Most misunderstood is the concept of 'speaker'. The speaker serves varied functions.
Rather than someone communicating, 'speaker' emphasizes syllable over sound. To speak, one engages system (unities, differences, harmonies and disharmonies); One speaks a language understood by an other in order to communicate; however, a 'speaker' organizes; that is, rather than communicating with sound and syllable, a speaker RE-creates sound and syllable in such manner as the recreation indicates a form, that language accepted by a portion of society as indicating special or close attention (the 'formal' act, event, or situation).
In a sense, syllable and sound in language communicate one act to an other whose response is to 'understand' or 'stand up to' or 'stand behind' the relationship between initiator and receiver: is this re-creation actual? Life, amid random growth and exchange, unites formal and verbal conventions. Art, a 'work', unites formal and verbal conventions in a system. The speaker implies a self-contained system.
The speaker of a poem (the poet); The speaker in a poem. The former is a verbal convention; the latter is a recreation revealing, as D.H. Lawrence noted, a relation between humanity and universe, and it is this related-ness that is necessary to literature, the history of literature, necessary to science. It is the play of potential actuality and the 'reality' of the poet's subjective outpouring (the 'subjective' being that from which culture and system is manifest out of universally private experience). The speaker of the poem is akin to the writer of a letter, a social fact; whereas the speaker in a poem is literary fact, a literary device akin to a brush stroke or a particular artist's choice of color during a given period of development.
Returning to sound and syllable – the former a fact the latter a potential fact. Sound is a relationship: 12 lines about love equals a sonnet; or, 12 lines about love, set in a definite pattern of rhyme and stanza breaks, is a sonnet BY Petrarch. Syllable is and art are mutable, carrying in them a kind of “auto function” of mis-understanding as well as potential to be 'stood against' – when the sonnet by Petrarch becomes formal (recognized, a 'convention) others may recreate it from their experience so that sonnet now becomes 'Petrarchen' or 'Shakespearean' or 'Spencerian'. In other words, the speakers of the poem (the poets) become/mutate into the speakers in the poem, for Petrarchen, Shakespearian, and Spencerian sonnets are recognized forms each of which communicates a distinct meaning or potential meaning to the inFORMed reader.
To inform is to bring the audience INTO the form.
Poetry, a verbal art, requires not only sound and syllable, it requires movement: speaker of the poem changes into speaker in the poem; and, auditor of the form (poem) becomes informed in and by the art. And, should we have poetry, the reader/auditor becomes a 'speaker' outside in the text by becoming a respondent to the text. Here is the social fact of literature, communication without contact between speakers over and beyond place and time, over and beyond domestics (those forces deriving from an individiual) and economics (those forces impinging on an individual). It is this fact that undergirds, 'understands', literature, the means by which social conventions mutate and the means by which the poet's subjective outpourings are actualized.
As the literary theorist Bahktin discovered as early as 1929, 'all verbal devices have double focus.' And the speaker is Ransom's 'desperate manoeuvre to perpetuate an order of existence' (Criticism Incorporated, 1937). The speaker (poet) creates a speaker in the text (poem as art form) which becomes a 'body' of work (the euphemisms, the conventions of this mutation are notable, including that the whole of a 'body' becomes an egg or 'oeuvre') which brings with it a history (that of the poet's universally private experience, that of the auditor's private experience, and the present generally learned experience of society, it 'traditions') into the contemporary economic present. Not only may the poem be seen as art, it can be monumental (Shakespearian, Petrarchen, Spencerian).
What then is a poem? Over 50 years ago, Rene Wellek offered that it is 'a highly complex organization of a stratified character with multiple meanings and relationships.'
On the surface (as if the texts were a world on which I stand), I agree with Wellek and the other writers, theorists, poets I mention…but do I truly believe, is what they say part of the actual world I experience by writing and reading poetry? The purpose of this and any future essays will be discovery of the world 'underfoot', that realm of experience which I call 'Poeta.'
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