Wednesday, February 20, 2008

musing on the line

All this talk of ellipticism and parataxis has naturally led me to a deeper consideration of syntax and the poetic line in general. By a happy coincidence I discovered I had a copy of the newly-published (Graywolf) The Art of the Poetic Line by James Longenbach, a fantastic articulation of many of the issues I’ve considered over the years, and many I have not. It's the first book I've read on craft that has real application to reading, appreciating and evaluating many of the contemporary—-dare I say "post-avant"—-poets. One of the many provocations the book provides is the idea of a line that is syntactically coherent but semantically incoherent and the thrill such tension can produce (for example, such as Ashbery can regularly produce). Longenbach's exploration of the line reminds me that overlooked in the critical assessment of elliptical poems is an examination of how the work of the line is enhanced or weakened by what's inside the line—-word choices, denotations and connotations. As Longenbach asks, how can a poem’s "syntactical eruption" be "exciting rather than merely confusing?"

I am also reading Matthea Harvey’s Modern Life, a good collection to read in tandem with Longenbach.