Friday, June 09, 2006

Reading and enjoying Brent Cunningham's Bird & Forest, which is a tour-de-force of and in rhetoric, as it happens, thinking hard about the staging of the scene of speech and the positing of a field (or forest) through which meaning can be set singing and fluttering. Good stuff; I may have more to say about it later when I've actually got the book on me.

I also continue to be absorbed in rereading Emerson's essays as a way of getting into or under or behind Ronald Johnson. And becoming more interesting in ecopoetry proper. The Gilcrest book sees a line from Merwin, Snyder, Moore, and Stevens toward a poetry of "meditative consciousness," by which he somewhat contradictorily means the unmediated experience of nature: a poetics of référance, to use a coinage of Leonard Scigaj's, by which language (that is, symbolic action; that is, the Burkean "terministic screen" by which a given terminology ends up deflecting as much reality as it manages to represent) actually fades out or throws you back upon the "outside": a curiously antipoetic poetics. Actually Burke's ideas about language, which I'm just being introduced piecemeal to via Gilcrest, have fascinating implications for poetry's relation to the world, or to the real. This is a little piece of Burke's Language as Symbolic Action that Gilcrest quotes regarding the "entelechial principle," according to which many of our observations "are but implications of the particular terminology in terms of which the observations are made. In brief, much that we take as observations about 'reality' may be but the spinning out of possibilities implicit in our own particular choice of terms" (pg 5, emphasis in original). Isn't that precisely the wager of poetry: that "spinning out" the implications of a terminology or terminologies (the linguistic material that poetry reflects on as a matter of the poet's choice and preoccupations; poetry has no terminology "proper" to it), when put under pressure by means of meter, syntax, rhetorical maneuver, collage, etc., will in fact put us in closer contact with reality, or at the very least cause us to question the adequacy of those terminologies and the picture that they present to us?

It's time I sat down with Burke, or would be if I had the time. The study of rhetoric fascinates me, and it seems more than a little assbackwards to have spent so many years trying to understand poetry without a solid education in rhetoric.

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