Notes and Fancies from Ira Sadoff’s Lecture “Structure and Poetic Memory”
Ira challenged us to really consider the structure of the poem – not its grammar, or its form, or its meter or lines, but structure as the connection between all the craft elements and its poetic argument, as how the poem carries meaning and how it builds its authority, earns its right to say what it says.
Poetry, Ira argued, is very different from prose or other forms of writing because it is not a character study or narrative source of information, description, or plot. Poetry is associative, the place where improvisation and form intercept. The “music” of a poem (or the racket, as Ross Gay calls it) is there to reinforce the poem’s emotional moment. Poetic structure is also the way images echo and argue with each other within the world of the poem. The structure of a poem is its emotional spine; while poems do have and convey ideas, poetry happens in the place that is embodied, physical, and emotional.
Structure is also the way poems build authority, how they earn the right to assert what they say, or question, about the world. In this way, structure demands that poets do not settle for the easy, the thematic, or the conventional. Poems should be allowed to ask questions, should not be forced into what the poet wanted to say. As poets, we have responsibility to our own language, and to not using rhetorical flourishes in place of the hard work of making meaning and music. The poem must be responsible to each word that it uses and how the echoes between the words and music accrue meaning as the poem progresses. This accumulated meaning is poetic memory, and is also the structure of the poem.
Also, these insights:
-Consciousness engenders passion and a penchant for justice
-Imagine if we could make every moment matter, if we refined and honed the art of paying attention
-an embodied consciousness is the religion of poetry
-poems move toward intensification
-the key to revision is to ask of the poem “what’s the obsession? what’s the inquiry?”
My additions, as scribbled in my notes:
About poetic authority—the authority must come from within the poem itself, not from the known life story of the author. This is so many “topical poems” or anthologies of “X Kind of Writers Speak” are often so very very bad. Their biography is doing the work, so their writing isn’t expected to. Identity is infinitely interesting to me, but it is not the same as a poem that makes its own meaning real.
A poem is such a living object, creating meaning between itself and its reader each time. To read a poem is a four dimensional experience, since you are in the sensory world created by the poem and the reading itself takes the time it takes, so you are traveling with the words through space and time. Like desire, which is ever mutable and reforms itself constantly between people but is nonetheless a real, felt, object or power, the poem lives as we read it, it pushes on us and we push back and that new thing that is created between the poem and reader should have its own name. Actually, I guess, there is the shape created between the writer and the poem, and then the shape created between the reader and the poem, and these are distinct realities beyond the writer, the poem, and the reader. These are, to borrow a phrase from the vocabulary of comics, which are also 4 dimensional communicative art forms, the gutters, the spaces between, and the gutters are where the meaning is made and remade endlessly.