Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Often False Dichotomy Of Technique Vs Emotion

First, welcome to those reading. This'll be an eclectic outpouring (outporing?) on topics including (but not limited to) poetry, the arts, politics, culture, energy issues, horse racing, psychology, economics, and spirituality.


Over a decade ago, a friend and I would have occasional conversations on what drew us in, what hooked us, when perusing poetry. In other words, what were our idiosyncratic effusions when encountering words arranged vertically on the page that made time stop, caused us to think and reflect, and altered our worldview in (at least) some measure?

His predilections were established in the formative years of exuberant teendom, when unreflective, immediate identity with heroes are normal. Two of the wonderful qualities of youth are concentrative sincerity and flexibility: my friend maintained the attitude of the former quality while lacking the latter. Cutting his teeth on the Beat versifiers -- chiefly Kerouac -- he was enamoured of their "freedom", attacks on the bourgeois complacencies, and "energy" and "spiritual" concern. But this is conflating the didactic stance of the writer with the nebulous stirrings of the adolescent reader.

His defense was that feeling trumped technique, and to be more aggressive about it, that technique not only muddied feeling, but murdered it, or at least bludgeoned it into affectation.

Of course, poetry is the conjoining of feeling with technique and craft. In a good or great poem, feeling and/or content is inseparable from polished effort. And this is where the obverse extreme of technique gets pasted, as well: Paul Valery mocked, in a poem I read decades ago, his contemporaries who could spin enchanting filaments of internal assonance in a colossal superstructure of regarding harmonics; Cesar Vallejo mocked his contemporaries who wrote beautiful metaphors in joyous lassitude; Irving Layton excoriated Canadian contemporaries for their "machine-tooled professionalism". All of these aesthetic technocrats lacked the passionate drive for lasting creation: poetry was a parlour game, an enjoyable one, no doubt, but a hobby and diversion as a release from stultifying communal responsibility on one hand, or elliptical back-patting on the other.

My friend would point to epiphanic examples, sincere realizations of personal oneness, humility and the like, and more often than not, the result was akin to being drenched by the Niagara's torrent six metres from going over sans barrel. The approach sets up a false contest between "feelings", "compassionate" response, "unaffectedness" versus "worked-over" agonies, and a tight-assed inability to share and commiserate with "humanity".

I remember reaching for one of his own books; I read a poem by Ralph Gustafson, an exacting crafter of fine poems, and detailed what was happening in its rich enfolding (just spent a half-hour looking for it amongst my own Gustafson collection, but then I realized it was from The Celestial Corkscrew, which I don't have -- I'll hit the library in town tomorrow, post it, and detail it in some fashion later) .

At the bottom of the majority who deride technique, and mistakenly assume that it obliterates emotion, is the bathetic impulse, the sweeping sheeplike effusion of surface reactivity, however strong, for an assumption of poetic worth and vigour.


Unknown said...

Hi Brian!

Hey am I the first to comment in your blog?? This is so cool, looking forward to reading more!


Anonymous said...

Brian, I'm a little intimidated now...or perhaps you find hidden meaning (and intelligence) in my amateurish stuff? Even the blind squirrel...

I'll be looking forward to reading about technique, since I have writer's block...

Lori (brizo)

Zachariah Wells said...

Hello, Brian. Thanks for the comment on my blog. I would like to send you a private message, but there's no email info on here, so could you please drop me a line at zachwells at