Monday, May 4, 2009

Feeling threatened

Get on back that little pony.

Just reading an essay by James Longenbach in The art of the poetic line (2008, Graywolf Pr. ISBN: 978-1-55597-488-6). He's talking about the 'Sirens' section of James Joyce's Ulysses when he says Joyce suggests [when indulging in the aural pleasures of poetry] 'we ignore the seduction of plain sense at our own peril...Words mean something because they always threaten to sound like something else.'

I don't know if I completely understand what that last sentence is getting at. Is he saying words have added meaning if they sound like another word - rhyme, assonance etc? Is he saying words almost always sound like something else other than what they mean and this somehow gives them that meaning? Or when he says 'mean something' is actually saying 'are important'?

The whole previous paragraph is kind of getting at the point that meaning (in poetry) is useless without sound and vice-versa, but that last sentence is a bit perplexing. Maybe he is just saying those two things might be more connected than we think, that they have to work together to achieve either?

Anyway, it sounds like Joyce's Sirens section didn't really make sense unless it is put in context of the previous prose sections and the bit that came after. Which kind of sounds a little bit like cheating. How many poets get to write an accompanying prose section that explains of the strange words they gave chosen? But then context comes in many forms, and something as simple as a one word title can provide that kind of context, so I guess all poetry is working within a sphere of context of some sort. When a poet mentions sand and war, you could assume that he/she assumes that the reader might connect that to the one of the recent wars in the Middle East. But if he wrote 'wah wah wah, ssssssss and sssssss' would they get that? Probably not I'm guessing. So then it becomes like a cards face up, cards face down kind of thing. Which is an eternal problem.

So thanks for helping James! Although to be fair I haven't read all the essay. That will come this afternoon I think.

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