Every now and then I just need time alone to recharge. Normally I spend the time doings Scoplawic things – in this case, switching saddle and pedals over to Hush, changing her rear tube and tightening up her bottom bracket and headset (I’ve been a breakneck rider these past few months.) Then in expectation of my ride tomorrow, I took her out in the field to make sure everything was working properly, and to pick up some yogurt and salmon at the market. I’m thinking a chowder of some kind tonight.
I also spent part of the afternoon reading most of AD Hope’s “The Cave and the Spring: Essays on Poetry.” Hope is one of the great Australian poets of the 20th century. He makes for a great read – apart from the predictable free verse screed. But Hope is a poet, not a versifier, so I’m prepared to forgive him much. And there’s some really good stuff in here. Much of this stuff is not groundbreaking, but articulates a working poet’s point of view. I’ll leave off his technical thoughts on caesural pause in iambic verse and modulation in odes (which is fascinating, really). Instead I’ll type out some of his lines which I think might interest a more casual reader:
"Poetry and Activism":
Activism, by trying to limit the artist to proposed ends and agreed means, belongs to the forces that persuade Ariadne to stay at home.
Poetry uses as its material not words as sounds alone, but words as meaningful sounds. These structures of rhythm and sound which we call poems signify things other than themselves, unlike structures of sound and rhythm we call works of music. . .But it is not merely imitative or representational. Like a sonata it consists in itself of a structure which is not a representation of anything in nature, though the elements of which this structure is composed may be representations, or as we more usually call them, images.
Freedom of choice, which Activism in any form denies to the writer, is essential to real creation for a reason which is not so much that a writer should be able to choose what he is to write and how he is to write. This is important enough. But it is more important, indeed it is crucial, that a writer should not be able to choose, but to be chosen by something in him which he can neither foresee nor predict, something whose nature he can only discover in the process of writing it.
"The Sincerity of Poetry":
Some time ago I took part in a television interview in which the interviewer asked the surprising question: Why are you obsessed with sex? When I asked what made her ask that she said it was because so many of my poems were concerned with sex, and she was not to be moved from this point of view by my reply to the contrary I thought they were concerned with love. Nor was she convinced by my pointing out that there were nearly as many references to birds and to religion in the poems in question and that nobody on these grounds had ever accused me of an ornithological obsession or of a tendency to religious mania.
Poetry. . .requires not the expression but the sacrifice of personality, the surrender of the poet’s self to something which is more valuable. The emotion a poem creates is not the emotion that produced it. It may look like the expression of a personal feeling. The poet may even appear to be speaking in the first person, but the emotion in the poem is not even then to be taken as a personal emotion.
No one in his senses would expect a painter to produce nothing but self-portraits.
"The Practical Critic":
(on the New Critics) The poem is always under the critic’s microscope, and he never seems to reflect that while he is testing the poem, the poem may in fact be testing him. Sometimes, if he were aware of it, a very sardonic eye is gazing back at him through his lens.
There are sometimes absurd and inadequate interpretations which are not valid at all, but there is no sharp line dividing the valid from the invalid reading. Each reader comes to a poem with a different background of reading and experience, images in the poem connect with images and experiences which he may not share with the author or other readers; ideas in the poem react on ideas and systems of belief which may be quite other than those in the mind of the man who wrote it. So that no two readers will quite read the same poem. To some extent each re-creates it as he reads.
I do indeed hold that poets should be silent and that the poems should speak for themselves if they can. But in an age of criticism it is sometimes fitting not to let the critics have it all their own way.
"The Three Faces of Love":
No one, as far as I know, has thought much about the education of poets in our society. This is hardly surprising in a society which makes no provision for poets even to live.
Yeats speaks of the poets as people whose work exists not primarily to help or to inform us. When we read them, he says, “we have added to our being, not to our knowledge.” It is this impulse to “add to being” which is the distinctive mark of the creative way of life.
"Literature versus the Universities":
The poet trained in a school of creative writing by academic critics and taking a job in the same atmosphere is more and more tempted . . . to produce work which, more or less unconsciously, is written in illustration of current critical theories; and thus reversing the proper order of nature in which the critical theories arise to deal with the independent raw material of the creative imagination . . . What is really disturbing is when the young lover has the professor in bed with him and knows his performance is being graded as a first or second class honours, pass or fail. Writing is, or should be, a single-minded process.