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A Geof Huth poem

I’m generally left rather underwhelmed by Geof’s explorations of visual poetry, but this one really appeals to me.

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KSM on ‘meaning’

Kasey Silem Mohammad has taken Jonathan Mayhew’s comments “that poetry is a distinctive kind of thinking, that cannot be replaced by paraphrase” and riffed on them a bit.

Personally I find Jonathan’s formulation unappealing. Of course the reading and writing of poetry takes place mainly in the mind, but to call it a kind of ‘thinking’ seems to unhelpfully foreground intellectual and analytical qualities – rather than, say, linguistic or sensuous ones.

Kasey’s approach is more sympathetic to me. To excerpt a bit that is, if nothing else, easily excerptable:

“There are contexts, obviously, when it is perfectly sensible to ask what a poem means. For a student reading Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” it is quite reasonable to ask what Frost means by looking into the lovely, dark woods and then saying “But I have promises to keep / And miles to go before I sleep.” It is also fairly easy to answer: he means that oblivion is tempting, but there are reponsibilities the living must honor. It is less easy to answer the question “What does the repetition of the phrase ‘miles to go before I sleep’ mean?” In fact, it may be a meaningless question.”

I’ve never felt that ‘meaning’ was a good focus when trying to understand what literature is and how it works. The very fact that paraphrase kills poetry seems enough reason to approach it from some other angle than ‘meaning’. The old MacLeish chestnut – ‘a poem should not mean, but be’ – doesn’t really get you any further. Not only does it offer no way of distinguishing a good poem from a bad one, it offers no way of distinguishing a poem from a lamp-post. More tempting is the formulation ‘a poem should not mean, but do’: a poem is a way of doing things to people with words. But then, so are novels and political rhetoric. Perhaps there is no functional difference between rhetoric and poetry – just a formal one.

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Who dash monkey banana?

Some entertaining/interesting commentary on Live 8 and African aid generally at Copia.

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Daniel Green talks sense

Daniel Green says some things about the academic study of English.

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arts vs. crafts

Rebecca Loudon said, in a post which Bloglines picked up but has since been deleted:

“And I hate writing and I hate writers, too. Seriously, it all pretty much sucks. Can’t we just get together and drink and do crafts? I’m sure I can find some ribbon and rubber stamps at the dollar store. And some glitter. And some glue. Lots and and lots of glue. The kind you have to squeeze into a sock and inhale in order for it to work.”

It really annoys me when people imply that crafts are somehow lightweight, frippery slapdash pursuits, compared to arts. Tell that to Chippendale. Or Lalique.

Or that the thumbprints on a handmade pot make it somehow more authentic. Rubbish. The best handmade pottery (and furniture, and glass, and clothing) has a superb finish, better than anything a machine can do. The idea that ‘crafts’ are amateurish is a sad side-effect of the Industrial Revolution. William Morris, although he has to take some of the blame, must be spinning in his grave.

It saddens me when quilters feel the need to describe themselves as ‘quilt artists’. Or when a fine piece of pottery is described as ‘art pottery’. I understand why people do it – ‘artist’ is a word with a lot of cachet, whereas ‘craftman’ has very little – but I’d rather see people make the case for crafts, rather than trying to hang on the coat-tails of so-called ‘fine art’.

Chippendale was a craftsman. But he was surely more talented and more influential than any British artist of the period. He probably doesn’t get the respect he deserves, as one of the greatest creative talents of the C18th – but Chippendale is no more an artist than Pope is an architect.

BTW – Rebecca just happened to wake one of the bees in my bonnet. I’m not suggesting she holds the any of the annoying opinions that I’ve mentioned.