notes on lyric 9
|The contemporary English-language innovative lyric captures some of this – text and sound to be received on a mnemonic level, but also need to be processed and thought about. Reading and listening should be work as well as reception.|
Poorly copyedited; the two clauses after the dash aren’t parallel. What worries me here is that the slippery slope with respect to what counts as “meta-textual” now looks like a mudslide; putting the focus back on “sound” makes the set of techniques pointed at in this formulation look meta-linguistic, which is not the same thing.
The notion that mnemoticity (a word I found in Scott’s book) is wholly non-cognitive (doesn’t require processing) is odd. Similarly, the second sentence is less tendentious if “reception” implicitly means “passive reception” – but who ever thought this? Not Modernists, or modernists, and not (if JK’s “poetry was never so easy” is to be taken seriously) pre-modern poets/”intellects.”
Might as well register that questions about the status of a written text as the presumed record of a “sounded” one have been under the surface throughout the text. JK doesn’t try to bring them forward except by occasional gestures like “reading and listening.” I haven’t done any better – can’t talk about everything at once, though it may look like that’s what I’ve been asking JK to do.
Each of the poets in this anthology challenges us to think about how the lyric works, and whether it is a relevant literary concept in whatever environment/spatiality we experience it in.
New paragraph. “Environment” is just a metaphor for “context” (here, context of reception, though we’ve also been told that a concern with context of production [“intentionality”] is a feature with which audiences should be concerned with.) Fine, but adding “spatiality” (no more or less pretentious a word choice than “mnemoticity,” I’ll allow) gives the metaphor an air of (Jamesonian?) materialism, as though JK’s given the notion of environment content of a more concrete kind. Which he hasn’t. Do I receive the poem differently in a room, or “in the street”? (Cf. Dan Thomas-Glass.)
The power of the word itself, of the line, of the packaging and distribution of those lines, is in play.
This, again, is something one might claim about any poetry (any lineated poetry – is this a minimum requirement of the lyric.
Cf. second paragraph: “It’s a question of where the packages of word, or words, disseminate…” The occasional recourse to the image of “packaging” seems intended to remind us periodically of a kinship between the stages of linguistic/literary “exchange” and the commercial kind. It’s a potentially interesting way of thinking about lineation (the rhythm of units coming off the production line is rather different than the measure of song), but I suspect it’s more relevant to some poets than others, and, like “spatiality,” it’s here no more than a gesture.
The lyric has never been the prisoner of convention that some would have us think – metrical consistency in English, or the conventions of the French syllabics (for example, with the alexandrine, placement of caesura, alternating rhymes, and so on) have always been displaced or eroded without the loss of lyrical effect.
True in the very general sense that all texts possess musicality (prosody, etc.) if one chooses to attend to it; the contextualization of a text as poetry invites us to attend to it; lineation is perhaps the most common signal of that contextualization. Also true in the somewhat more specific sense that musicality can be foregrounded by means other than adherence to tightly regulated prosodic convention. Quite likely false, however, if “lyrical effect” is closely tied to mnemoiticty, as it has at times seemed to be in the last paragraph or two. (Translation – it usually takes more effort to memorize free verse than metrical verse.)
The metrically variable lyrics of Sidney through to the resonant para-tac-tics of Prynne, have in no way impaired the singing of the language.
[The dash between “para” and “tac” is part of the prose lineatation; the one between “tac” and “tics” is not, but may just be a typo.] Seems to just support the previous sentence, though a bit elliptically. I guess “have in no way impaired the singing of the language” just means “have in no way impaired these poets capacity to sing the language.” “Sing the language” is an interesting phrase and I’m unsure how precisely to take it. It’s not quite Heidiggerian (the language would sing us), but it connotes something more grandiose than the production of a specific song. It could be this: in the course of the poetic act, the poet takes the entire linguistic system (langue) as his or her instrument -- plays “upon” it, like (of course) a lyre, or in the way that a conductor “plays” the orchestra. I don’t think a reading of this sort is inconsistent with anything JK has said, but it’s a new note. Or, I may be making too much of rhetorical nicety.
Rather, they have developed sophisticated layerings of political possibility.
This is what Sidney and Prynne have done instead of impairing the singing of the language. Ok, how? We might take it that the poets stretching or breaking of prosodic convention is related to questioning of the status quo in other respects. (Sidney, here, would be grandfathered in as a modernist avant le lettre; again, despite the gestures toward a “historian’s modernism” at several points, JK ultimately thinks that these possibilities are always already there for a property self-conscious poet/intellect.) I have no reason to doubt that this relationship could be made out interestingly on an actual reading of these poets, or others, but I have to admit I dislike the manipulative way this move is made here, and not for the first time: JK not infrequently shifts suddenly from talking about musicality to talking about “opposition” or “political possibility” or vice versa, as though aware that, these days, a theoretical or quasi-theoretical statement on lyric had better keep both music and politics on the table (not to mention decentering of the self), but too easily satisfied that the connections can be established by “para-tac-tics.” [If taken this text on its own terms as much as possible, but it’s also an instance of a genre: the sophisticated but necessarily compressed contemporary anthology introduction. It might be interesting to attempt a similar commentary on some others – Charles Bernstein’s preface to the mini-Language anthology in Paris Review, which was my own introduction to those writers, is a candidate.]
Much more charitably, JK is alerting us to look for the relevant relationships when we read the poetry.
This is not a “school” of poets, but a grouping of unique voices. Some speak more directly to us than others, but the sheer power of the lyrical template must bring our certainties into question.
Last paragraph. The “certainties,” I assume, are those related to “death of the lyric”; JK is allying his position, and the anthologies, with “post-lyric,” and pointing us back, more explicitly than the previous sentence, toward the poetry. This is welcome, though it’s also standard rhetoric for the anthology-preface genre.
The details are odd, though. “Template” brings back a sense of reliance on pattern that has been denied throughout; it’s unclear, given the range of formal possibilities, what a general template for the lyric is supposed to be. We’re not told (and never were, beyond references to mnemoticity) what lyric has the “power” to do -- and the “sheer” makes this power sound irresistible, sublime, beyond questioning. Some poets, apparently, do speak to us fairly “directly”; this might register that some of the poets included will be less difficult at the level of determinate semantic content, but you’d think directness would be out the window with all of the questioning of the world/word link that’s gone before. (Not that JK says that the more “direct” poets are better.
Going back to the penultimate sentence: Denying that the poets included form a school or movement is de rigueur in contemporary anthologies (except those that are explicitly about movement-formation or –codification, such as In the American Tree. And it’s certainly true in this case, given the book’s explicitly international (U.S./U.K./Australia) and less aggressively but noticeably intergenerational perspective. Still, it’s funny that at this last moment we’re promised an array of “unique voices” beholden to no principles but their own, given that the denial of the privacy and autonomy of the ego (supposed to be part to the ideology of traditional, pre-Modernist lyric, except when it wasn’t) is supposed to be central to the M/modernist critique, as well as a starting point for (oppositional) “political possibility.”
[End of JK's intro. Some reflections tomorrow, perhaps.]