Thursday, October 06, 2011

Poetry as Ping-Pong

What is Poetry? One might “claim that all fictional and/or figurative language is a subset of poetry.”

I like this claim. The above formulation is David Orr’s, from his book on poetry, Beautiful and Pointless. I prefer to say, “Poetry is Art created using the material of Language.” This subsumes “all fictional and/or figurative language” under the term Poetry, doesn’t it. I partly like this definition because it makes so grand a pronouncement as to stymie argument, or, rather, to move the argument so far away from the usual fussing over line breaks and stressed syllables that those tiresome old niggly bits don’t even come up.

David Orr does not approve. He calls this an “untenable position.” He says this “is like asserting that all games played with vaguely spherical objects are really ping-pong.”

So. Poetry is Ping-Pong? No, Mr Orr. Poetry is not Ping-Pong. No more than it’s Tennis. Or Football – can one say American football is played with a “vaguely spherical object” anyway? Is poetry a game? What score does one need in order to win?

source: Beautiful and Pointless: a guide to modern poetry by David Orr


Art Durkee said...

It always amazes me how people who claim to be masters of the word are capable of such sloppy thinking. Orr's analogy is a category error, one no actual philosopher would make. Yes, he's making an analogy, but it's a really bad one.

Jim Murdoch said...

So Prose isn’t Art created using the material of Language? I can think of several novelists who might have a few words to say in response to that.

Art Durkee said...

Artists in every art form (including architecture and dance) like to think that their art form is the "purist," or most high and exalted. That's mostly because they're attached to their own art form over all the others. Sometimes they're right, mostly they're wrong. It's true that it's the highest art form for THEM—but it's not true that it's therefore the highest art form of them all, for everybody. That's usually the root of literary arguments when novelists and poets start comparing themselves to each other.

On the other hand, among artists in general among all the art forms, I've noticed that writers tend to be among the most insecure about the worth of their own work. That's possibly because, unlike musicians and dancers, they don't quick feedback from their audiences; it can come months or years later, meanwhile you have no idea if anything you're doing is liked by anybody. Thank the gods I'm a musician first, a writer somewhere later.

David Lee Ingersoll said...

“Poetry is Art created using the material of Language.”

I really like that.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

I actually liked this book. I thought it was playful and thoughtful, if occasionally flippant.

Jim, maybe Prose is Art created using the material of Meaning?

One of the reasons writers are insecure, Art, is because any literate person can write. We all don't dance or sing or play the piano or paint a picture - or fancy that we can. (Although I wish we did.)

By the way, David, The Ugly Dog of Heaven and Jack (Lightning, I suppose) have joined the cast of "Thousand."