"I am an idealistic, naive, passionate, truth-seeking, spiritually motivated artist, unschooled in the science of law and finance." --Wesley Snipes

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Jake Adam York on Craft

Read Jake's interesting post here.


My reply:

This is an excellent response, and I find myself agreeing with you, though I still have trouble with the word "craft." For me it is too heavily weighted with both New Critical assumptions and common workshop practice to be useful to my own thinking. If we follow your example, and discern the principles that make a "good" O'Hara poem, and then, on these principles, determine which of O'Hara's poems are well-crafted, we're still essentially saying that a well-crafted poem is one we like--

The poems I like (the "good" poems) contain elements X, Y, Z, which may be different than elements A, B, & C, which are the most prized elements in Po Land (or Bizarro Po Land, depending on how you want to stack your Xs, Ys, and Zs). If Poet Alef hits X,Y, & Z, 80% of the time, she's a pretty good poet by MY standards, but maybe only a 20% good poet by Po Land standards (assuming that A, B, & C are the elements comprising her other 20%).

This is an odd example, perhaps, but I hope it serves to show that any talk of "craft" is ultimately highly subjective, even if objective rules are in place.

About the Ellipticals--I was being flip, as I haven't read enough about Burt's classification to make an honest or insightful comment.

Finally, you are correct when you mention that I've left about many period styles--as you note, a complete period style taxonomy would be quite an undertaking.


Jake Adam York said...


Many thanks for the reply. I've appreciated your blog and am glad to connect.

I take your point --- most talk of craft is highly subjective and, at best, often proves the point T. S. Eliot made eloquently in "The Music of Poetry," noting that when a poet comments on the work of others, he or she is often, consciously or unconsciously, describing the work he or she wants to write, not the work in question.

And I think your algebra of reading describes the kind of reading that usually helps me decide whether to buy a book.

However, I don't think this kind of reading is enough, and I think we all recognize poems that are good, given the principles of the author or school, even if it has 0% of the X, Y, Z elements to which we personally respond.

Conversely, we occasionally read poems that contain our favorite X, Y, Z elements that we don't like.

And this is where, I think, a discussion of craft becomes not only possible but necessary. Liking the poem we like can't just be matter of its containing elements we like, can it? (If so, I think those Russians, Komar and Melamid would have had more success.) We also have to talk about whether or not, by some standard, a poem can be said to be made well, even if we dislike its contents or disagree with its method.

I'd like to extend this discussion, if no where else then only in my own head, but I think I'll have to find both a poem I don't really care for but can admire and a poem I should like but don't, and explain with reference to those.

Give me a few days. I'm on the road.

Stuart Greenhouse said...


You are saying, basically, that craft = "some technical reasons which intimate why I like this poem", I think.

It seems to me that if you are going to advocate a 'new sincerity', you would want to embrace this implication of craft, not reject it as problematic. It emphasizes the personal, after all, ability to pick out of the whirl of info ('chaos') what is pleasing/true. And discards the absurdity that there can be an objective standard by which poetry can be judged.

Just a thought.