Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Where are these voices coming from?

In Pinsky's chapter titled "Voices," he takes a closer look at modernism's "new direction," one that is "cooler and quieter, suggests the paradoxical, essential, historically recurring poetic aim of sincerity." In doing this, he focuses on persona, moving from Lowell to Berryman, which leads to a final section cross-examining Berryman's masterwork The Dream Songs with earlier poems by Thomas Hardy and John Crowe Ransom.

The section where he solely focuses on The Dream Songs and Berryman's persona of Henry was the most enlightening for me. Over the summer, I had read, or should I say attempted to read, this series, stopping after the first volume, 77 Dream Songs, due to what I'll call an overwhelming feeling of what?. It's not that I didn't enjoy these poems or understand why they are important (the mixture of dictions, perspectives was both exhilarating and awe-inspiring). Rather, I could not grasp the understanding of what was going on (both in terms of story and style) enough to latch onto these poems in any self-respecting way.

Here, I am reminded of something W.S. Merwin said on a video interview I watched last night. He said something along the lines of the emphasis when reading a poem being too much on the interpretation and not enough on the reaction. I take this to mean what I encounter many people say:"I think it's neat, but I don't know what's going on." Reaction to me, as I hope to talk more about here soon, is the most important thing to art, I believe; as I told Todd recently, a poem doesn't mean anything if no one gets stoked about it. And, why certainly I don't need to know what's going on at all times in a poem, my lack of comprehension of the larger roles the language played in the dream songs left me tired, frustrated, and confused.

This is where Pinsky stepped in; this section about Berryman opened my eyes and my mind to a different way to understand and appreciate what Berryman is doing in these poems. Now, I think it best to work through a few of the key quotes of Pinsky's in order to get a better sense of where I am coming from.

The opening sentence of the Berryman section is "[t]o assign part of the poem to a voice or protagonist gives the attributed element a kind of autonomy, however illusory or conventional." I immediately thought of the links I had discovered and heard about between Henry and Berryman's real life self. With this method of speaking, Berryman allows himself to use his own life and feelings in way that might come off negatively or even unpoetic otherwise. By allowing this Henry character to speak and be spoken to, he gives himself more room to work, a smart and rewarding tactic, which likely aided him in producing the 385 highly-praised dream songs. Later in the paragraph, Pinsky takes this idea a little further suggesting "the quasi-autonomous element in the poem supplies a way to have one's self-dramatization and yet to judge it--or at least to stand a little apart from it."

Further complicating me during my first reading was the diction and syntax in the poems. While I enjoyed the playfulness and feeling they compelled, I was again lost in why they were used for the story/collection as a whole. Pinsky's explanation about the possible origin of this use was the final point needed for me to appreciate these pieces differently:

So, though the syntactical eruptions of baby-talk or ministrel-talk may seem to have some particular, special implication, Berryman's language seems to me to grow first of all from the poet's need for a vocabulary that does not restrict him or embarass him. And weight and strength therefore depend not on the words, in a way, but on areas between the words, on the disparities and oddball vacuums.

This new way of seeing these poems is applicable and helpful to this study and my overall growth as a poet, I think, because as both a reader and a writer, it broadens my understand of purpose behind voice. Persona poems are ones that I often have difficult with, unlike in prose, because often the story and the language (my favorite part of poetry: the leaps and risks one can take with this category) collide differently than I'm used to. Further, my own personas can be strengthened with this understanding by being more careful of and purposeful with my poetic mannerisms, an underlying point Pinsky seems to be making, as to enhance and make pop my sincerity, one of my most valued poetic elements.

No comments:

Blog Archive