Aug 24, 2011

Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Elegant Restraint.

Lake Superior at Marquette, Michigan

Lake Superior Morning

Seney, Michigan, Rts. 28 and 77.  Great Cheeseburgers here.

As I was looking for an easy link to the last post about Frost’s “The Draft Horse,”  I came across an intriguing comment in 2007 by “Greg,” a blogger, I guess—at any rate someone unknown to me.  In an effort at proper attribution, I’ll offer the website as well: 

I like Greg’s comparison between good poetry and a boxing match. And maybe his closing statement about aesthetics applies to the characters in "The Draft Horse" or even to Frost's work as a whole. You don't throw a punch if you don't have to; know when to walk away.

Here's Greg:  

The single most important thing
that qualifies a poem as being great is:

And the other single most important thing
that makes a great poem great is that it has
infinite rEsOnAnCeS.

And the 3rd single most important requirement
that a poem be great is...well...
-- you remember the Ali-Foreman fight in Zaire in '74?

While Foreman was going down in the 8th round,
Muhammad was prepared to hit him again,
as he went down. But he chose not to.

And it was either Mailler or Plimpton who pointed out
that Ali's decision not to follow up with that one more,
superfluous punch, was an aesthetic choice.

Besides the beauty of the restraint,
and besides the possibility that Ali just
might not have connected with it (--which
would of course have spoiled the whole fight,)
there is also the fact that by not hitting Foreman
at that point Ali was in fact hitting him harder
than any purely physical blow could deliver.

Because that is what showed the world that Ali
was still in complete control of himself,
while Foreman was kissing the canvas good-night.

Universally: The single most attractive part
of any human being or poem,
is its self-control, and restraint.


I don't know how thoroughly I agree with Greg, or how completely boxing can be compared to poetry or the human personality. But in this world of extremes, I might be more than halfway to finding elegance where Greg does. In poetry, however, I might still be partial to touches of Romantic excess, if that's what it is, compared to Neoclassical restraint, which tends to include supercilious wit, symmetry, stiffness, coldness, and a host of topical allusions, which implies that "our" time in history, whether Augustan England or 21st century America, is so important that readers ought to recognize and care about its specific names and places. As much as I admire Yeats, he's guilty of that. Still, I'll take him, Hopkins, Dickinson, and Frost, for example, over Pope and Dryden. 



Ken Mac said...

my uncles spent a lot of time in the Upper Peninsula shooting deer, rabbits, all kinds of stuff.

Hannah Stephenson said...

Totally fascinating.....restraint makes art?

I might argue that it also has something to do with decision-making/intention...that the artist is in control of her/his choices.

Banjo52 said...

Ken, it still seems pretty wild up there, though your uncles might laugh to hear me say that. Unfortunately it also seems poor, with the possible exception of larger towns like Marquette. The bar in the photo might have been the only functioning business of the several at that crossroads (known as the town of Seney).

Hannah, fascinating is good. Thanks. And I thank the internet for leading me to these unplanned pleasures like the Leonard Cohen forum site.

Hannah, control of choices sounds good to me, though I wonder if that might amount to something like restraint. Also, I wonder if we feel in control of our choices in expression, but are in fact subject to influences we've internalized without realizing it.

Your timing is perfect: I just finished that Logan essay, and he thinks Richard Wilbur's "The Ride" (included in the the article last time, via link) is influenced by the Frost poem--and that both modern poets are influenced by Milton's poem on duty. Logan speaks of Wilbur's being "chased by another poem" the way we all are sometimes chased in dreams.

I say (again?) that Logan goes places I wouldn't, but he's always providing food for thought. And isn't that what literary (and art?) criticism is for, rather than pounding the gavel and pounding us with correct, terminal answers?

Anonymous said...

I think I know what Greg was saying. The first draft we write, that I write anyway, is in the realm of kitchen sink. Unedited and undisciplined. Then I go back and take out about 66-2/3%. Because it's worth pitting every sentence you write, even every word, against the great "Who cares?"

Banjo52 said...

AH, I agree of course, and I hope a lot of us have been there (whether or not it shows!). But try selling teens on the "So What" requirement. I've maybe never felt like such a villain.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I really like this idea. It reminds me of the way that Picasso's drawings of bulls became simplified through time:

Anonymous said...

hmmm. keeps shortening my link. here it is:

Banjo52 said...

Somewords, interesting. Thanks. As someone who likes art but has no training in it, I have no idea what that PROCESS is like. Those pics of stages seem almost like diagramming sentences.

Brenda's Arizona said...

Wow, I have to digest this for a while longer. Really. I love the Ali fight analogy.
But poetry - does anyone really care about a poem if they can't find something they like (or know) in it? When Wordsworth writes of his long walk through the hills (as he did in the poetry book "The Prelude"), we oft find a piece that grabs us, holds us, makes us say "Aha"!. When Coleridge attaches the albatross to the neck of the ancient mariner, many of us feel that weight - metaphorically. When Frost writes (in Home Burial) of the sad wife seeing her child's grave, day after day, from the stair landing, don't we feel the loss with her? And don't we feel her husband's anguish at not knowing how to explain one must carry on?
Poems can make us feel something. And sometimes it is self-control. Sometimes it isn't.

Or something like that.

Banjo52 said...

Brenda, good examples. For some reason, I'm now especially wondering what my albatross is.

I'm not sure this is responsive to your points, but I think a poem needs to take us somewhere--into some understanding--mental and/or emotional--of another person or place--and not in a trivial way. That somewhere might be primarily thought or emotion or experience. Much of the detail can be mundane, daily stuff, but it also needs to tap into the bigger stuff, I think.

Are we even on the same subject?

Lovers' Lane