On “beautiful” poetry


For the sake of submitting to a rather pressing query of a buddy here at Facebook, I will find some time to elaborate on my personal take on what is “beautiful” poetry.

This is truly, at the beginning, a difficult question to answer, a difficult requirement to satisfy. For of all the preaching of post-structuralism, especially dating back to Nietzsche and all the problematic encounters with different understandings of and positions regarding the aesthetics, the function of and the nature of poetry, this seemingly innocent and easy question becomes unwieldy.

But let me attempt to simplify things, and do away with the ornaments I sometimes feel necessary. Let me approach the aesthetic merits of a poem in terms of the two aspects we all know and I feel, embrace: form and content. It should be a different matter altogether, the issues inherent between these two, i.e. what should be deemed primary by the poet, or to begin with, should there be a primary consideration after all, are not these two supposed to go together, complement each other. As I state above, these considerations will not be dealt with exhaustively here, but its mere mentioning serves to show the surrounding surface that I tread on as I try to construct my view on the “beautiful” poetry.

In terms of content, there are hardly configurations or prescriptions. Poetry can be about anything – feces to blank spaces, Bill Gates to war armaments. Always, it is the form of a text which indicates its being poetic, of it being tagged as a “poem.” This is the more delicate matter which could require much of our finicky attention.

(As a subsequent insertion though, I feel like in terms of content, an important thing to consider is the position of the poet with respect to her subject matter. For my preference would be on the poet who consciously creates poetry about things and sees her poetry as necessarily implicated and participatory to the larger scope of things where her subject matter is likewise subsumed. Given this conscious knowledge of the poem’s (and the poet’s) absolute implication and participation in everything external to it, the poet can take better advantage of his craft if she launches her poetic productions as an active response to its external environment.)

In terms of form, a poem becomes such if it is able to defamiliarize that which its aims to talk about at the beginning. Deriving this from the school of Russian Formalism and acquired and rewritten by succeeding poetic movements and practitioners, my personal rendering of this term is that is materializes the abstract and lends a new light in viewing the seemingly already concrete so that the readers can gain a new experience of this material object. I cannot speak of technique for this is something which my present dispositions do not exactly promote, much more adhere to. Say, we can speak of visual contortions, line breaks, caesura, inclusion of pictorial elements and other “innovations” that have been ushered or tried to be ushered in the past decades. But I cannot claim that any of these “techniques,” when employed and employed well will instantly constitute “beautiful” poetry.

I think I would like to rest this case by concluding with regards to the “affective experience” the poem brings about to the readers. However, this “affective experience” I am citing here should not be likened to the thing New Criticism criticized in favor of the text’s “organic unity” they so valued. I am talking of affective experience as informed by the reader-response theory and concepts such as intertextuality, the often notorious post-structural open-endedness and a generally humanist tone that privileges the human agency and its capacity for choice. To me, the beauty of poem would lie on its effects on the readers. If the reader was able to make something out of the poem; that is, if he was able to gain some insight that might change her perspective or more preferably, spur her into action; if the readers fight against the poem, destroy it, wrap it in her arms, kill it, torture it, own it, reshuffle it and rewrite as new, perhaps the poem succeeds at being beautiful.

Lastly, I do not intend, and will never intend to sound or appear teleological here. If not for the grammatical conventions I am sometimes forced to comply with, I would not prefer doing this: “I.” For in speaking here of the constitution of a beautiful poem, I do not want to be like the sermons at some obscure mountains of the ancient times, or our elementary school textbooks, or the Law, or the State. You know where I am coming from. So let us start the discourse now!

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