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Poetics and Poetry Discussion


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Michael Shepherd Male, 85, United Kingdom (7/16/2005 2:11:00 PM)

Many, many years ago, children, I was told 'There is only one question a critic should attempt to answer: 'Does this achieve what it set out to do? ' '

That's quite a demanding and broad-minded exercise.

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  • Max Reif (7/16/2005 2:30:00 PM) Post reply | Read 1 reply Stage

    Very good question to bring up!

    I'm having a correspondence with a poet (half way 'round the world from me, which I feel is cool!) about a poem she wrote. I appreciated the poem, except for lines in several places. Reading them I 'went blank'. I asked her what she was trying to say. She replied with clear paraphrases. Then I replied in an attempt to show the poet that she wasn't saying what she said she was trying to say. It wasn't just a case of 'poetic ambiguity', but of the poet not communicating clearly.

    I don't know whether the poet will 'see' what I said. Often our egos prevent us from taking in truly constructive criticism. I said what I had to say as kindly as possible, giving the poet the choice whether to read on to an appendix-my specific suggestions for bringing lines into congruence with her intention.

    A paragraph or so of my letter might be relevant in this discussion:

    'Now I understand what you are trying to say. I think some very small imprecisions in the language used, made the lines so ambiguous for me I couldn't follow them.'

    'I'll try to explain below. Please know I'm NOT a grammarian, and I don't see myself as a 'poetry snob' like some people on this site (one fellow uses 'POETRY SNOB' as his name here!) But the grammar of a sentence HAS to flow clearly if the poet wants the reader to get what the poet wishes to say. And the poet surely does, or why go to the trouble to write and post the poem? '

    'Ambiguity has its place in poetry, but it has to be CONSCIOUS ambiguity that the poet intends for artistic purposes.'

    ps: Michael, the school of criticism that tries to evaluate a poem in terms of its own intention-is that New Criticism? (now old, of course! : -)) I forget. Thanks!

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    • Michael Shepherd (7/16/2005 3:02:00 PM) Post reply Stage

      Probably was, Max... in its day! Like 'Modern Art', an implicit criticism in its very title! But I think you are making the same point - a sincere attempt to understand the poet's intention is valuab ... more

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