Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Poetry mags & well-made poems

I've been trying to read both the Poetry Review and Poetry, and wondering why on earth I bought them. Not that there aren't good poems in them, but they just don't seem terribly interesting overall. Or relevant. Some poetry magazines continue while having long since lost any raison d'etre. They're not publishing the new, upcoming poets, they're just publishing the few remaining members of whatever school of poetry they were set up to support. Poetry especially seems tired; well, it is nearly 100! It's full of perfectly decent well-made poems that refuse to lift off the page. Poetry Review is a bit better, but not by much.

Which brings me to this thing about "well-made poems." Surely poems ought to be well-made, not just cobbled together? Well, yes and no is the best answer. So many poems are perfectly well-constructed but ultimately empty. They're vessels for lots of clever phrases or ideas, or little packages of not very original insights or observations. There has to be more than just a good construction to make a poem interesting, something apart from it being well-made. Though there is some value in "well-madeness," and a good traditional sonnet is still worth reading.

But then there is always the non-well-made poem: the cut-n-paste, the aleatory, the fragmentary, where the point is precisely not to look well-made. A serial poem like Maximus questions the very idea of something being finished, or looking complete, well-rounded or beautiful. The well-made poem starts, works its way through an argument and ends with a satisfying sigh or clunk at the end. The modernist fragment poem starts arbitrarily (seemingly), ends arbitrarily, doesn't finish its thoughts, sometimes doesn't even finish its sentences or stick to a horizontal line. It scatters itself about the page, mixes register, interupts itself. In short, it doesn't follow a logical or sequential order.

All these techniques have been around the block for awhile now, and I suspect that for many younger writers, the opposition between well-madeness and fragmentariness is a lot less problematic. I suspect we will see in future, poets who can do both; who can write sonnets and fragmentary cut-up poems.

I don't think many of the big name magazines have caught onto this yet. But there are a few newer magazines - Parameter, Succour and a few others - that may be cottoning onto this.

1 comment:

Rachel Fox said...

I saw you on Rob's Surroundings and thought I'd take a look. I too have Northern down-to-earth disease...I was born near Darlington...I'm beyond help.
I like the title of your book too. When I've read the stack of stuff on my desk and finished the laundry I might look for it..
I am a slightly younger writer and I can say that, certainly for me, I am less hung up on whether something is 'well-made' than some. I do like well-made but I like other stuff too (to keep the music thing going I like lots of genres...it's where the heart is, what it's saying, what is special about it that gets me where it matters). In fact, compared to other bloggers in the recent debate, I am just less hung-up full stop. Some people seem to think that if you write something that stands a chance in hell of being understood by a person who doesn't edit a poetry magazine...then you're not taking the whole thing seriously. It drives me crazy!!!! Look even to the point of excessive exclamation marks!!!Which I don't even like.
Anyway. I'll take a deep breath and get back to work.
Nice to meet you, wirelessly speaking.
Rachel Fox
(formerly of t'north now of t'north of Scotland)