I’ve Got To Read Martin Earl
His post at Harriet and Annie Finch‘s response are powerful evocations of the power of poetic form to create an awareness of other voices, other minds, of another human being embodied in language. “A man speaking to other men” said Wordsworth long ago, and we can forgive him his ignorance of social theory.
Earl invokes António Damásio‘s concept of the “embodied mind,” and this is precisely correct, and also the reason for my one disagreement (happily addressed by Annie Finch) with his essay. His penultimate paragraph:
Seen in the light of cognitive neuroscience it is easier, and less emotionally fraught, to begin to understand why poetry, and by extension, literature and erudite culture in general, is already well along the road to extinction. It is a question of stimulus; the world is changing how we feel about the world, and the aesthetic products which derive from the need to articulate those feelings are changing as a consequence. Since poetry is now written largely without rules (or written with self-invented rules), since the common craft of metrics, rhyming, quantifying are no longer taught, largely dispensed with by the community, the result is a less universal and a more personal poem, a poem that can no longer be “read”, except by the writer and the writer’s closest cohorts – those who know the language. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this. There is simply no need in today’s world to write or to read epics composed in ottava rima which tell the life-stories of unlikely heroes.
The lack of “rules” he cites does indeed lead to the result he says it does, but there is something intrinsically wrong with that. I’m not saying there is something wrong with private poetry, or poetry only for one’s “closest cohorts,” but if that is all there is, then too much is lost. And Earl knows this:
Just to hold these books [an 1824 collection of Byron] in my hands delights my whole nervous system and, at times, there seems nothing more perfect in English than Byron’s making the Italian ottava rima his own.