i've been teaching a course in intermedia art in which half of the students are poets and we've been throwing around the word "poetic" as we talk about what we desire in and for our work. i'm wondering what you all think it means to say that something is poetic.There were a lot of great answers. Two I want to highlight were by R Erica D, who wrote:
someone asked toni morrison about people calling her work poetic when she gave the keynote at the romare bearden conference in new york a while ago. she said she didn't like it because there was an inherent assumption that prose wasn't supposed to be beautiful. there was more to it than that, but i've been mulling over the idea that the 'poetic' doesn't really say what you like or want from something even as i have the desire to use it. so, like when bell hooks used to have to say "the diverse black community" every time she (or someone else) might have just said "the black community", i've started to write and say "if you'll allow me to overuse the word, poetic" in places where people might just write or say "poetic", but that's really just a temporary strategy, and not a true landing place.
i think when i say that something is "poetic", i mean to get at a certain kind of clarity, elegance, simplicity (and at the same time complexity, directness, fogginess) that i find hard to name.
what is poetic to you all?
what is important about this question? useful? why do we care about the answers? are we trying to explain or work to others or to ourselves when we do this? are we trying to talk/think about other people's work?
Mendi wrote (was it in advance of or response to Erica's comment--I think it came just before):
i'm trying to figure out what it is i'm doing when i'm writing a poem, whether it's always the same thing (say, when i write a narrative poem and when i make a concrete one), and whether my making poems is connected to what i'm saying when i'm saying something that is not poetry is poetic.
I'd add, what about poetry that isn't "poetic"? What does that kind of poetry look like? Why is certain kinds of poetry (in general, as we saw with the critique of June Jordan) called non-poetic or less poetic than other kinds? Or what about poetry that conversely is criticized for being excessively poetic (that was used against Derek Walcott in that same rag.) What role does the lyric play in the poetic? What is "the lyric" or "the lyrical"? Whose definition of these terms matters? Is any universal, non-material understanding of "the poetic" possible? Is the poetic "violence done to everyday language" as Jakobson said, or "the asseveration of being," as Howard suggests, or are these understandings of poetry obsolete or were they never valid? Does it depend upon language--phonemic relations and play, aspects of rhetoric, particular categorically grounded forms or modes of expression, etc.--or is it something broader, such as social and political contexts, and ultimately is it possible to reduce "the poetic" to either? Must "the poetic" be special or beautiful? Does the poetic always create a surplus, or contain condensation of meaning? Does the poetic have to be memorable, as some critics have suggested? Must it provoke some emotion, whether delight or disgust? How does it differ from "the prosaic"?
Does Morrison's reaction to the idea of her work being "poetic" depend in part on a longstanding Anglo-American criticism of and sometimes disdain for those elements of the poetic, particularly beyond a certain limit, in literary prose, whether fictional or nonfictional? What about when we say that oral, nontextual forms and modes are "poetic"--that African/American/Diasporic speech and expressivity are inherently "poetic"? (I'm thinking of Erica's performance our first year at CC--the narrative that was "poetic" on so many levels. Or the stories that other CC people would tell. Or our conversations outdoors and in the hallways and dining hall at Mt. Esopus. Etc.) Like when we hear our grandmother just talking about what happened yesterday, or just consider it (as Elizabeth did with her poem that was on the New York subway and always brought a smile to my lips) and we think, "That's poetry."
What is "poetic" to you? What is important about this question? What is poetry? Why does it matter?