New Directions & Poetry

Language out of work

Posted in Uncategorized by New Directions on April 9, 2009

“Poetry is not language at play, but language out of work, deliberately unemployed—thus poetry commits a kind of welfare fraud upon us all.” ~Christian Bok

While I was doing my usual few minutes of Twitter, I ran across this interesting rumination by the poet Christian Bok on his Twitter page. One takes illumination where one can, whether it’s thought-provoking graffiti art, a beautiful little book of architectural projects at Kinokuniya where I was browsing this evening (one tremendous project outlined was a greenhouse made with a structure that allowed the greenhouse to sway gently in the wind, reflecting the movement of plants in the wind), graphic art on blogs, or a tweet by an innovative poet on the nature of language in poetry.

There is a sort of duplicity in the language of poetry, or as I heard Marie Ponsot once say: “Each word in a poem should function on at least three levels.” I loved that “at least” implying the infinity of language.

In a poem, language is unlike language in journalism. It is not a straightforward communication. If language can be thought of as being vertical or horizontal, language in poetry is neither but a meandering, a layering on, a drilling into, an obfuscation, a condensation, a crystallization, a multiplicity…often to convey a truth that cannot be arrived at in a straight manner. Rather than an algebra formula, I think of language in poetry as a Venn diagram with so many circles of meaning intertwining with and colliding into each other.

Here is how Christian Bok handles language in poetry.

Soo Jin