Monday, January 21, 2008

introduced and edited by Craig Douglas Dworkin

Poetry expresses the emotional truth of the self. A craft honed by especially sensitive individuals, it puts metaphor and image in the service of song.

Or at least that's the story we've inherited from Romanticism, handed down for over 200 years in a caricatured and mummified ethos - and as if it still made sense after two centuries of radical social change. It's a story we all know so well that the terms of its once avant-garde formulation by William Wordsworth are still familiar, even if its original manifesto tone has been lost: "I have said," he famously reiterated, "that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings; it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility."

But what would a non-expressive poetry look like? A poetry of intellect rather than emotion? One in which the substitutions at the heart of metaphor and image were replaced by the direct presentation of language itself, with "spontaneous overflow" supplanted by meticulous procedure and exhaustively logical process? In which the self-regard of the poet's ego were turned back onto the self-reflexive language of the poem itself? So that the test of poetry were no longer whether it could have been done better (the question of the workshop), but whether it could conceivably have been done otherwise.