Daily Departures

Departing daily from the ordinary objects of my thoughts.

Friday, April 28, 2006

On Poetry

Frankly, I don't know anything about poetry. I don't especially like poetry either. That is not to say that I dislike it, I just don't have any strong preference for it. I've watched people read and write poetry before and I see how much they love the words and the interplay between them, but for some reason, I don't respond in the way that these people do.

That said, recently I came across a book of poetry called The Plurality of Worlds of Lewis by Jacques Roubaud and I want reader feedback on whether or not this poetry is good.

Poem 1:
Via Negativa:

no place

moments impossible to discern

refusal of fused shadows

pure multiplicity unexampled

unsupported roofs

Poem 2:
Division of Worlds

------- this world: split in two, two irreducible, unconnected space-times.

------- in on of the other two halves, all points are joined from arc to arc; in the other, likewise

------- but between them nothing, not even an arrow: impassable space.

------- one cannot cross from one subworld to another, ------- one cannot cross alive. ------- or dead.

------- Me here, you there. ------- not together. ------- over there I'm dead

------- Over there no more than here, we are no linger in the world together

------- (you will die there, I here)

------- In return you are, ------- are ------- there, ------- still. ------- It is the only consolation. Survival is to big a word.

Finally, Poem 3:

all that a world could be, no matter what,

is, somewhere, in some way.

fullness of possibles, consistency.

no matter which talking head, mine

for example, adjacent to my body


why not

against my face, the angel's, the black shadow face itself,

but all the seats are taken, all the worlds


to you.
So, there are the poems that I'd be more than happy to have some comments on. I'm mostly interested on whether people think that they are good or not. (I didn't write them so obviously I won't be hurt if you think that they totally suck.) If any of you are feeling more ambitious I'd be interested in hearing what you think the poems are about.

I'm interested in the latter question, because I know what was the inspiration for the poems, it was the man pictured below; and, more specifically, it was his book On the Plurality of Worlds by David K. Lewis. I've got very permissive views about literary and poetic interpretation, so don't worry about this turning into an argument about what the poems really mean.

That's all for now folks, so comment away!


  • At 4/28/2006 09:21:00 PM, Blogger R2K said…

    : )

  • At 4/28/2006 11:33:00 PM, Anonymous Ben said…

    How serendipitous -- I was trying to track down this book today, although I didn't have the title quite right, so I couldn't find it online. Thanks!

  • At 4/30/2006 03:50:00 PM, Anonymous RjR said…

    I've just come from the MFA writing graduation at Syracuse, a series of readings by the outgoing fiction and poetry readings. I came away more convinced that these Lewis poems are less than stellar. Much of poetry's power is in allusion, conjuring images with words. You have to give your readers just enough information to take an educated guess what "conceit" is inspiring the work. That conceit can be just out of reach, leaving the reader in wonder, but not frustration. It's a delicate balancing act that this poet hasn't acheived, at least not in these samples.

    Now the key word is readers. I'm of the opinion that good poetry can be written for a small audience. Outside of that audience, the poetry may be have no value because the allusions are only relevant to a specific group. Poem 2 might fit into that category. It might honor of dead loved one or express the longing of parted lovers. But for public consumption, I should be able to tell which. Right now I read it and think, this is a second-rate recasting of your basic Charon tale. It's been done before and done better.

    Other concerns: from Poem 1: "multiplicity unexampled" is one lousy turn of phrase. Poets should use words in unusual combinations. They can also consider making up words. They should rarely attepmt to do both in close proximity.
    from Poem 3: The poet needs to bear in mind what strong reactions readers will have to the phrase "talking head." IE, the reader might pause to think, "I hate Bill O'Reilly," which is a very distracting sentiment. Pop culture references should be used with care.

  • At 4/30/2006 04:03:00 PM, Blogger Mark said…

    Thanks for the comment RJR. (Oh, and by the way, you win the prize for longest comment on my blog! Good job!)

    One thing that I think is really interesting about your comment is that given your criteria, this might actually turn out to be good poetry.

    Let me be more specific. David Lewis was a philosopher who has been elevated to nearly God status among many analtyic metaphysicians. So, if we take it that this poetry was written for a small audience, it would be those who are both analytic metaphycians and familiar with Lewis's work. Phrases like 'multiplicity unexampled' actually alludes to a particular part of Lewis's metaphysics, namely possible worlds. A possible world is a way that this world might have been. Being unexampled is just to be non-actual.

    I stand by my previous claim that I know nothing about poetry; here I am just playing with the criteria that you set out and the interesting consequence that it seems to have.

    Maybe for a poem to be good it needs to have a wider audience. If that's the case, then maybe these poems turn out to be poor. But, I have no idea how to argue about these criteria.

    Thanks again for the comment.

  • At 5/11/2006 12:15:00 AM, Anonymous Sean Ritchie said…

    He read's like someone whose too lazy to write a philosophy essay and too academic to write a good poem...

    so it's kinda fun as philosophy...something for philosopher's to read while taking a shit actually...good toilet reading

    but awful as 'poetry' as a set of ideals...that being said...i'd buy it used..but cheap...

    cause hey..i'm a book tramp


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