Part 8, cont - Fictive Certainties, The Concept of Form


When I first began this project, I felt here was something missing about my approach to close reading. I realized this when I was unable to jump into the project with the gusto I thought I would when I first picked the topic. As I started the work, I feared that this topic was too sterile. Then I read a friend's blog about something Robert Duncan had written, which lead me to an essay about Duncan and then my next assigned book for this project was Fictive Certainties. (The accommodating nature of this low-residency program is one of its many appealing aspects.) And there, on page 16, in the essay "The Truth of Life and Myth" I found a passage that I immediately knew was saying something that hadn't been addressed in the other essays I had read for this project.

"It has never seemed to me that the true form of a poem was a convention or an ideal of form, but, as in life, a form having its convention in the language of our human experience, as our bodies have their information in the life-code of the species, and our spirit in the creative will" (16).

This assertion is a radical shift in the concept of form. It took a long time--weeks, really--for me to internalize this and explain what it meant to me and for this project.

This perspective on the concept of form is iterated in different ways throughout the book. "[W]hen I speak of form I mean not something the poet gives to things but something he receives from things" (30). It is not something we impose on the work, but instead a life force that exists and we tap into it. He states:

in my poetics I let go of striving to claim some authenticity for the poem in itself and give its authority over into a universal authenticity that arises from the store of human experience acknowledged in the language that gives whatever depth to my own experience, a feel of form acknowledged in its inception to be no more than a feel (38).

This sentiment is addressed repeatedly in "Ideas of the Meaning of Form" as well. He quotes an academic of the time, a Miss Drew, as saying, "'A metrical a convention, within which and against which, the poet orders his individual poetic movement.'" These are the people Duncan called "mentors of wit and taste"..."whose meters must perform according to rules...these phantasms of the convention triumphing..." This is "a magic that removes the reasonable thing from its swarming background of unreason" (91). I often hear readers of poetry who agree with Duncan on this point call poems “too clever.” Cleverness and ‘cuteness’ are exalted in favor of a deeper creative approach to making a poem.

Contrasting cleverness is the idea that there is "a music in the heart of things that the poet sought." Duncan uses quotes from Thomas Carlyle to support this: "All deep things are Song...Poetry...we call musical thought...See deep enough, and you see musically; the heart of Nature being everywhere music, if you can only reach it" (92). As I said previously, a life force you tap into.

When I read in Bloom this echo of thought in poetry, I realized that my original "formula" (a loose thing, sort of tongue-in-cheek) was missing parts.

Originally I had


I have adjusted that to

ENERGY [TEXTURE (STRUCTURE + FORM) = Interior of a Poem- what the poet creates

I have previously defined texture, substance and form as explained in “The Flexible Lyric” and I still agree with those definitions, including form as "the arrangement of the materials to create harmony, pattern, symmetry, recurrence and unity." What changed was the concept of form and the energy behind the harmony, pattern, symmetry, etc. I ask: was the energy from an imposition of the poet's intellect on the words or was it from something more organic, more authentic? Thus the additional interior element added to the equation.