Sunday, June 17, 2012

Tension in Poetry

 Grace Curtis talks about tension in poetry.

Poet and critic James Orley Allen Tate defined the term in 1938, saying

"I proposed as descriptive of that achievement, the term tension. I am using the term not as a general metaphor, but as a special one, derived from lopping the prefixes off the logical terms extension and intension. What I am saying, of course, is that the meaning of poetry is its 'tension,' the full organized body of all the extension and intension that we can find in it."

Does poetry need tension?  Is tension merely extension and intension, without the ex-in?  Discuss!


Rob said...

Categorizing poetry from within a culture may be a fool’s errand. Why does poetry have to be one thing? If there are divergent types, are the two main categories “good” (what I write) and “bad” (what “different sorts” write or an earlier generation has written).

Is poetry many things which particular listeners judge “good” or “bad” by which voices resonate most? Go to any open reading in Ohio. Frankly, my response varies between readers. While all are poets, some poetry sounds like it came out of a personal diary and I wonder if the therapist who suggested the anger management technique knows that the words have become a public voice. The opposite extreme is the clever words that never break out of literal cuteness. Most, however, fall between and, as a listener, I can resonate with both the angst and appreciate the cleverness. That being said, my personal preference is metaphor (which is always a lie when taken literally).

My area of study is cultural history. I began this reflection (which I fully expect the divergent poetic community called “Cleveland” to reject) with the phrase “within a culture”. We have many ancient books which were written in languages no longer widely spoken. In Eastern cultures in particular, we know that some of these books were considered “poetic” within their own cultural setting. Modern translators, however, have to try to figure out the common elements that make them fit the category. In the Book of Psalms for example, translators try to make them sound poetic to English readers and accommodate some of our cultural biases about poetry. In reality, the textual critics do mental gymnastics to make them fit some larger category that could be called “poetry” and includes at least five forms of parallelism, acrostics, and numeric (n+1) forms.

In my opinion, science is our dominant cultural myth. As the article states, (my interpretation) it fools us into thinking that language is precise and that everything of value can be expressed in words. Some poetry gets written under those conditions. Some, however, feel that very few important ideas can be captured in the jots and squiggles that become words which, in turn, become declarations of war, academic treatises, and poetry. Each of these forms carries “tension,” but are they all poetic?

Maybe poetry isn’t about “tension” or “resolution” or “sweetness” or “angst”. Maybe poetry is about people listening to the quiet moment when the reader’s voice stops and the listener’s ear answers back, “Yes!”

(Don’t ask me to explain how an ear could say anything. I am a poet.)

kalitkapodryabinkoi said...

It's all up to the poet and his aim in writing a poem.


The poet doesn't invent. He listens. ~Jean Cocteau