Poetics is a tricky subject. It seems to start as many fights as religion, albeit less violent ones with a few exceptions. Likewise, it is about as empirically provable as religion is. What is poetry? What is god? Do either really exist? God and poetry have been declared dead about as many times, yet books & magazines & churches & temples still exist. I prefer books & magazines to churches, so that is all I will say about god. People like to complain that there is something wrong with contemporary poetry. Most of them haven’t read much contemporary poetry. Our poetry needs to change, they say, in order to be of greater interest to society, when what really needs to happen is that society needs to change to be of greater interest to poetry. Society runs screaming from poetry & complains that poetry is getting too far away. Poetry that gives chase winds up out of breath & stranded in a strange town where Justin Bieber glows on flat screen televisions & everyone is famous. We need to let society run spastically into the CGI sunset & leave us alone with poetry. Wasn’t this what we wanted all along? That, I suppose, is my poetics.
Everything you need to know about poetry is written on air. This statement will make many people furious. Therefore, it is poetic.
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To put it another way, poetry is a manner of speaking that differs from speech, which isn’t to say that it doesn’t say anything. Of course it says something, or it wouldn’t exist. Some will say that contemporary poetry means nothing. This is impossible since words do nothing but mean; they are meanings in & of themselves. To say poetry can mean nothing is like saying abstract painting is invisible. If it were possible for a poem to mean nothing, it would be the greatest poem of all time. In Shavasana in yoga the mind tries to empty itself of itself, but this is mostly impossible; the mind attempts to extinguish itself in a crackle of memories and images, disjointed from each other and not particularly attached to anything—a kind of static that is as close as we can come to emptiness—never necessarily empty, but as divorced from ordinary thinking as we can be & still be alive. Poetry functions like this as well; even poetic narrative leads to emptiness—a state where language is no longer necessary. Mere language can only ask for a hunk of cheese, but it is all we have. This doesn’t mean we should not try to get past language, to outgrow it. That is what poetry is for. “Shavasana” means “corpse pose;” everyone knows death and poetry are old friends, even the ones who want to run with celebrities. A yogi(ni) in Shavasana is like a corpse in the same way a poem made of words is like a poem.
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I like to write next to things: paintings, songs, trees, people, which is not to say that I like to write about them, but they are there nevertheless; have you ever tried to ignore a tree? Or a Miró? The poems here were written next to a bunch of songs that were popular in some clubs in England in the sixties, seventies and eighties. It is difficult to say how the idea came to me, but nevertheless it came. I listened to the songs & then wrote the poems; this is about as explicitly as the process can be described. Post hoc ergo propter hoc would suggest that they aren’t actually related in any way, but fuck logic. The poems are accompanied by prose pieces talking about the people who wrote the songs because it seemed like the right thing to do. These pieces do something very different from the poems, so I really consider them to be prose, although they do not sound much like your garden-variety expository writing. Some might call them prose-poems, but I call them prose &, ultimately, they are my children so I can call them whatever I want. Like siblings who don’t necessarily get along with each other, they both happen to have the same parent & neither one can deny this. Most of my projects are very different from each other—the only thing they have in common is me; this is a failing of sorts insofar as the best poems will eventually abandon their authors. I try to let the poems do whatever they want. Some people might say I am a bad parent, but these peoples’ poems probably grow up to hate them. Their poems will grow up to become lawyers & accountants. My poems will probably wind up in jail. I am so proud of them.
Aesthetics of Immersion Poetry
Kenyatta Jean-Paul Garcia
Literature is created through the usage of three devices – style, sentiment, substance. Of these the device which separates prose from poetry is style. Style is the single most important aspect of poetry. Whether coming in the guise of paragraphs or in broken lines, style must be of the utmost concern to the poet. Tone, meter, imagery must push the form into being, from there sentiment is established via metaphor. A single image running through the three lines of a senryu or 21 syllables of landay can be in itself a notion of so much more than what is easily read. This is what pushes poetry into distinction from prose.
The next important aspect of style is a question of story. There may be some innate desire among some to feel the need to tell something and thus the narrative. This is understood. This is where style again must come through. Here is where style disrupts, shatters or perhaps illumines story in a way unlike prose.
The poem is not a short story in broken lines. The poem is a poem. Poetry is the art of another way. It is the art of different approach and perspective. And perspective should be of serious thought to the poet. Forget reliable and omniscient narrators. Think of voice and participants and the act of being. Understand time/space. Let style adjust understanding. As sentiment is established throughout the course of the poem, those events/ideas will create a sense of lyricism. And form must comfort that. Form has the responsibility of carrying sentiment. Caring for sentiment.
Words (and their counter – space – and their complement – punctuation) need to be carefully chosen. Substance –the actual words, punctuation, and space are there also to convey sentiment in le mot juste. even if it means forcing words to work in an unusual way. Noun, verb, adjective are subject to change in poetry. All can act. All can be acted upon. All add image. All are image. And image is everything.
The image is the poem.
A good story makes one read on. A great poem makes one stop. This stop is to let the mind fill in the image. Or fulfill the image. Or to let the metaphor be carried to its end on the other side of the poem’s conversation.
As all poetry is correspondence. Exchange is the work of the poem via the combination of style, sentiment, substance. Poetry talks to/answers to memory. In such, Proust is poetic at its best. But it is his style which disturbs his poetry. Though he breaks story, time, hero, and creates a sense of perspective as none else other than Beckett (who obviously comes out of his shadow), he lacks a certain style in tone and meter. And space. He does not allow for the gap, the space, the time to examine – to fulfill the image. Poetry enjoys its spasms and its sense of specific sparsity regardless of overall length.
To get into the technicalities of esthetics in poetic style, a poem must if not carry then deliver a sentiment via its conversation. The poem should feel interactive. The poem should have something to say. Nonsense is an aspect. It is not a totality of the poem. If absurdity is to be used, it must serve a purpose. (And there is a purpose to Dada and language poems. There’s something to be said about questioning grammar itself. And there’s something to removing communication from language which was created just for the purpose of communicating. And of course, one should always challenge prescriptive linguistics.)
The poem after this, while maintaining/creating a style, must enter a reader into difference. It must slow the reader into thought. Into questions. Into pause. Poetry’s closest cousin may not be song but comedy which understands pause and not explaining itself. After this is the comic book which allows each frame to act as a part of the context/text or to be its own individual pictorial representative of an else. And oh, how the rules are meaningless in comics. Anything can happen – see Arkham Asylum’s up and down versus left to right reading. Let stanzas/movements be the rooms they are – filled with their own furniture.
The stanza is not nutmeg to complement the cream of a béchamel. The stanza is root vegetable after root vegetable to create the stew within the overall broth of white space.
Some well chosen (well, all well-chosen) substance is the nutmeg and perhaps a freshly ground pepper and a secret ingredient or specialty perhaps. Le mot juste is the mustard or thyme no non-saucier saw coming.
Through the careful interworking of style, sentiment and substance comes the poem. The poem is work with language not play. Words work. And words employ. Words are at play as an athlete is at play knowing this game is a means by which a certain contract will come. Language is the medium of all literature. The poem must put this language to its use or give it a new job.
At the same time, poetry is a product and requires producers and raw material.
To conclude, image is the blood of the poem. Image immersed in the words. Immersion poetry. Beyond expression, concept, process and out of focus/without focus should be the images running through. Through shattered narrative, through spastic, through sparse, through conceptual – the image. More to the point, the idea of the image. The trigger to thought. First the spark (of consciousness) in writer’s mind then spark in reader’s mind. Poetry of unwriting – leaving space for completion elsewhere.
To read is to perceive.
To write is to convey realthought where realspeak was unable to.
Kenyatta Jean-Paul Garcia is the author of This Sentimental Education and Enter the After-Garde along with two other collections of poetry. He was raised in Brooklyn, NY and has a degree in Linguistics. He has studied several living and dead languages in addition to philosophy and poetry at SUNY Albany and Hudson Valley Community College. He spent over ten years working in restaurants – cooking, washing dishes, etc. Currently, he works overnights putting boxes on shelves. By day, he runs kjpgarcia.wordpress.