New Poetry-Film Essay Online

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The film-poem genre has attracted considerable interest from various disciplines, and is beginning to gain astute critical insight as an emerging artistic form.

One excellent vehicle is the German-based Poetryfilmkanal website. I was delighted to be asked to write an essay for them about the fascination of the film-poem. The relationship between art and memory has always fascinated me personally, and in this piece I regard memory as a kind of aesthetic glue holding the two genres in relationship to one another. 

You can read the full essay, “Mnemosyne’s Tango: Poetry, Film, and the Dance of Memory” at the Poetryfilmkanal website.


Writing with Integrity

What stories are ours to tell?

The Atlantic’s response to a young white male poet contemplating hanging up his pen because of these categories in which he finds himself makes the fine point that guilt is never a good reason to stop making and sharing one’s art.

Yet a fresh spate of plagiarism allegations in the poetry world, combined with the recent furore over racially transgressive conceptual poetry, has me contemplating authenticity, integrity, and the implications of what we write.

I dig into all of this in a new article for HuffPost Books.

For me personally, it comes down to this:

  • Write what is yours to write
  • Credit your sources
  • Engage both heart and mind
  • Consider the wider implications
  • And, as Ezra Pound said, “Make it new!”

I welcome your thoughts and comments on the article.


Interviewed in The Poetry Shed

“I saw something nasty in the wood shed.”
-Aunt Ada, “Cold Comfort Farm”

A ShedThere’s nothing nasty in Abegail Morley’s Poetry Shed. I know becaus she recently invited me in for an interview.

We talked about the editorial process leading up to publication of The Knowledge, how the editor Jane and I worked together, and what it was like to finally see the finished product. The publication process can be a bit of a mystery to some, so thanks to Abegail for asking about this side of things and shedding some light on what was involved in bringing this book into the world.

You can read the full interview at The Poetry Shed.


Dynamite and Its (Poetic) Packaging

“A short poem need not be small.”
-Marvin Bell

dynamiteOn the plane from London to New York, I took in three stunning debuts: Mona Arshi’s sensual, wistful, and surreal poetry; Sarah Fletcher’s imaginative, accomplished, and wry personae; Anja König’s incisive, keenly observed notes on loss — and wrote brief reviews of each for HuffPost Books.

You can read the full reviews here.


How to Lie With Statistics (and Poetry)

“Tell all the truth, but tell it slant”
-Emily Dickinson

It’s pretty easy, really. Take a four-thousand-year-old universal human tradition — say, poetry — and use statistical data within a relatively tiny segment — say, the last ten years in America — to extrapolate into sweeping conclusions.

In a recent article for the Huffington Post, I call out this tactic employed by a Washington Post article to once again predict poetry’s imminent extinction (this time with helpful graphs).

This of course prompted a friendly debate on Twitter with some mathematical philosophers about poetry’s inherent lack of truth due to its freedom from alethic modality (as you would expect).

Still, I contend that it is easier to lie with statistics than poetry, since one engages statistics expecting objective truth, and often discovers subjective misinterpretation; whereas one enters poetry expecting subjectivity, but often discovers something universal. So much of deception, after all, depends on confidence.

You can read the article, and leave a comment, on the Huffington Post.


Innovation and Craft: A Trans-Atlantic Theory of Poetry

“Poetry must be as new as foam, and as old as the rock”

-Emerson

Dichotomies are often false but useful. Contemplating the similarities and differences between British and American poetry, having steeped myself in both for some time now, I have been slicing my experiences as a reader along two axes: innovation and craft.

Ancestors to the word “craft” come from Germanic languages and originally had to do with “strength, force, power, virtue”, making the transition to mean skill in art or occupation exclusively in English. To “innovate” comes from Latin and French and has always meant, as Ezra Pound would assert, “Make it new!”.

To better define the effects of innovation and craft on readers of poetry, here are some comparisons:

Craft Innovation
Reassures us with skill Disorients us with newness
Builds trust Generates excitement
Pleases the senses Delights the mind
Refers to convention Inaugurates new paradigms

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The Decline of Goodness in Poetry

“You do not have to be good.”

-Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese”

What kind of poetry will people be reading 100 years from now? It is impossible to predict for sure. Yet certain quantifiable trends in the poems published over the past hundred years give a definite indication of where poetry has been, and may give us some clues as to where it is going.

Methodology

As I have said before, aesthetic matters must be confronted on aesthetic terms. In 1968 a team of researchers asked people to rate different words in the English language on various numerical scales, such as the age the person first learned the meaning of this word and whether the word denotes something masculine or feminine. In 2004, another team extended this research, giving us the Clark and Paivio (2004) Norms — a set of 32 different scores for 925 special words (hereafter “Clark-Paivio words”).

Poetry magazine may be considered a bellwether of taste in American poetry, and conveniently has made nearly 3,000 poems stretching from its inception in 1912 to the present day all available online.

I trained computer software to analyse each one of these poems, counting how often a Clark-Paivio word appeared, which happened nearly 23,000 times in the available online corpus of poems. Armed with this large collection data, I then used a strategy similar to that of Michael Coleman Dalvean, creator of Poetry Assessor. I took the averages of the Clark-Paivio word scores across all 32 variables, rolling these up into an overall score for each poem. For example, the Clark-Paivio word with the lowest age of acquisition is “toy” at 1.5, whereas “bivouac” gets a score of 6.7. If a poem used both words, the poem itself would then get a score of (1.5 + 6.7) / 2 = 4.1 for the “age” variable.
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