Saturday, 3 November 2018

GIRAFFES AND THE GAP MOVEMENT

If it is unpermissible, in fact fatal
to be personal and undesirable

to be literal - detrimental as well
if the eye is no innocent - does it mean that 

one can live only on top leaves that are small
reachable only by a beast that is tall? -

of which the giraffe is the best example -
the unconversational animal.

(from Marianne Moore 'To a Giraffe')

I've just returned from a week's poetry masterclass at Ty Newydd, The National Writers' Centre of Wales, at Llanystumdwy.

Several poetry rules were reiterated during the week: avoid abstract nouns, adjectives, adverbs; use metaphors not similes; avoid one word lines; do not use lists of more than three things, keep the writing tight, etc etc.  This is all very good advice.  But of course rules are meant to be broken - if you can get away with it (and several - very good - poets have).

One of the most interesting workshops was one which erupted into a fierce debate about the use of gaps, inset lines, visual patterns.

It came as a surprise to me to find such visual and aural poetic devices described as a modern fad.  (What about George Herbert?  Henry Vaughan?)  Some of the poets that I find most exciting and interesting play about with form in this way - for example, Philip Gross, Gary Snyder, Angela France (The Hill), Heidi Williamson (The Print Museum), Angela Leighton.   R S Thomas does wonderful things with line breaks and inset lines (see my post Between Sea and Sky 1 July 2018).   Here's the opening of 'Arrival' -

Not conscious
       that you have been seeking
              suddenly
       you come upon it

the village in the Welsh hills
              dust free
       with no road out
but the one you came in by.

Note the placing of the one line adverb 'suddenly' immediately below 'you' - the visual positioning enacting the verbal meaning.  There is 'no road out' 'but the one you came in by' and the reader's eye, like the traveller, has to go back.

Where would concrete poetry be if poets always kept to the rules?  Last month (This place I know 18 October 2018)  I mentioned Josephine Dickinson's brilliant 'Snow' poem - a rectangular blizzard of tiny snow words with no spaces in between, as if she is looking out of a window at the snow storm. I can think of other examples - I wouldn't want to lose Edwin Morgan's 'Loch Ness Monster's Song' and 'The computer's first Christmas card' or Paul Muldoon's 'The Plot'.  Jeremy Over (in Deceiving Wild Creatures) has great fun with Robert Herrick in an erased poem 'Delight in       order'.

'The medium is the message' as Marshall McLuhan said - the poem must find its own form. Sometimes good advice can be too prescriptive and I think some of us felt that strongly in the group.  We were like Marianne Moore's giraffe - we didn't want to be told what was unpermissible and undesirable and be confined to the thin small leaves at the top of a tree.

One of the best things of the masterclass week was the small group workshops - four of us met each day to share poems, discuss our work and encourage one another.  I found kindred spirits who also enjoyed messing about with form.  Some of our lines contained gaps ....
Thank you, Jude, for this -

Remember - the Gap Movement started here!

3 comments:

  1. It was indeed a week of vivid and memorable moments, people. Perhaps the very strength of its effect was in the controversies that emerged. Certainly they have remained with me. Listening to Something Understood yesterday morning (Rowan Williams on art and faith) I heard the lovely list in George Herbert's Prayer more keenly than ever before!

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  2. The timing on this comment is out by 8 hours. Pacific Northwest Time? Don't know why. Also, at some point I must change my profile name from Lady Grey. That will probably take longer than writing a poem. . . Anna

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  3. Thank you, Anna, for your comments. Yes, the George Herbert poem is a wonderful list poem. Such imagery - Herbert takes us on a roller coaster journey ('Engine against th' Almightie ... Reversed thunder .. . Heaven in ordinarie, man well drest/The milkie way, the bird of Paradise' ) and then the quiet ending 'something understood'. I notice the shape of the poem with the inset middle lines - this in and out, like breath, echoing the second line of the poem.

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