Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Monday, 19 May 2008

Thou shalt not write poems about poems

Don't write poems about poems. I've heard this or read this more than once. It's frowned on in the same way as writing a novel about a novelist writing a novel is frowned on. I'll be honest, I don't get either of them. I like to read poems about poems and novels about novelists.

I can understand why … up to a point. I expect a lot of these kinds of poems will be odes to their muse or alternatively epics about their nightly struggle with the anti-muse, writer's block. A lot of very bad poetry must have been written covering each of these topics but then a lot of very bad poetry has been written about the wonders of nature, for idealised mothers and to girls who won't put out. It does not take a great imagination to work out how a 'rule' like this came into existence though.

The reason I constantly find myself drifting back to this topic is the difficulty prose has coping with poetry. A while back, just for the fun of it, I tried to define a poem and I ended up with a whole mess o' words because poetry – these days at least – is a very fluid thing. I've always been led to believe that a definition that includes the word which it is trying to define is a bad definition but I don't think trying to define or describe aspects of poetic experience – be it writing it, struggling to write it or simply reading it – using poetry, is a bad thing. How do you describe dance, for God's sake?

In the concluding paragraph to her essay Writing Poems about Writing Poems: Why (Not)? Wendy Bishop has this to say:

Poems about poems are just that. An interesting type of poetry. A location for exploration and discussion. A fairly popular student genre. A sometimes dreaded object for writing teachers. A place of some tension and much promise. A place to explore, understand, savour, and then leave, better informed, as we go on to other poetic tasks.

I am not sure I necessarily agree with her. I can see how her experience of this kind of poem might have engendered this opinion and she is perfectly entitled to it. I think that it is a hard thing to write a decent poem about poetry. But if we gave up when things looked as if things were going to get a bit rough where would we be? Everest wouldn't have been scaled, the four minute mile broken or Niagara Falls survived in a barrel.

I've been fortunate enough to have five poems accepted for publication in Gloom Cupboard, a journal with a name far too cool not to submit to; four will be appearing in their forthcoming print edition (#3) and one, 'As Is', is in this month's on-line issue (#36). To have a clue what I'm going on about next you'd better have a look at the poem here. I'll wait.

(tum-ta-tum-ta-tum ta-ta-tum-tidly-tum-te-tum ta-ta-tidly- tidly- tum-te-tum)

Okay? Done? Right.

The poem is about something that has annoyed me for years. It's the instruction you find in the submission guidelines of virtually every magazine NOT to submit poetry that has appeared elsewhere. I have perfectly decent poems that appeared in tiny print magazines back in the nineteen-seventies that I can't submit elsewhere because someone, somewhere, somewhen has read them. Poetry doesn't go off. It can date but then so do furniture and hairstyles and mobile phones it seems.

So I thought I'd be up front with this poem. It has been read before. You were not the first person to read it. My wife read it, my daughter, Richard from Gloom Cupboard – which means you were at least the fourth person to read this poem – oh, wait, I posted it on the critique bit of Zoetrope and thirty people read it there (of which only nine people could be bothered to review it but I got and overall 82.2%) – and can you imagine if this was a novel that thirty-four people had read before you did? It would be all tatty and dog-eared. That is assuming you were the first person to read it today and what about all the people who will have read it on Gloom Cupboard since it's been posted?

I think I should get an A for that poem:

Solid performance
Basic skills mastered
Originality, Creativity, Depth of Analysis
Sees beyond the obvious, looks for relationships and connections.

The poem is, of course, being presented as merchandise, it is being offered to you "as is" or "as seen" – caveat emptor – buyer beware so you need to examine it carefully because you can't return it for a refund.

The third stanza is of particular interest. When do poems lose meaning? From the moment I finish the poem, give it a number, get the nod from my wife that it's not crap and put it in my great big red folder? It's up to the reader then to make it mean something. (I'll come back to that in my next post).

All the poet hands over are words, no notes, no hand signals. It is the reader who works with those words and makes something of them. Every poem comes that way, no user's manual and batteries not included. One of the poems that will appear in the print edition is 'Your Statutory Rights are not Affected' during which the reader is asked to insert 'a moment of meaningful silence' into the poem. In other words, they need to contribute to the poem for it to work properly.

I had a look through my folder and one of my earliest poems about poetry is this one:


Poems are near
naked thoughts: for

we will not take
off our clothes since

we are ashamed
of our bodies.

7 January 1979

It's not the greatest poem I've ever written but I still have a fondness for it. It's perhaps more subtle than some of my later work where I state outright that poets are liars. All I'm saying here is that it's human nature not to tell the whole truth so if you're reading poetry looking for truth you need to bear in mind who it is that writes poems, people like you and me.

A year later I wrote this one:


Do not analyse
my poems!
They will not conform
for you.
Neither stare into
any mirror
and expect your image
to give up
any truths or secrets.

8 December 1979

God, I was young and angry. I sometimes forget how passionate I was back then. Here's the next one I found:


Poems disappearing in words –
nothing there but voices.

Excerpts from other people's lives –
empty as a found photograph.

25 June 1980

I love the image of a found photograph. I have several. I even carry one in my wallet of a girl I've never met, a little passport photo I found while waiting for the lights to change early one morning. I think it's a good metaphor for the problems readers have with poems. They want to make sense out of them. They see familiar things but there's also missing stuff that they need to provide.

Of course I'm not the only poet writing poems about poetry. Wendy Bishop lists a pile of them in her article but no hyperlinks. Here are the ones I've managed to find – most of them actually. Am I not good to you?

Rita Dove, 'Ars Poetica'

Archibald MacLeish, 'Ars Poetica'

Ars Poetica, Vicente Huidobro translated from the Spanish

Linda Pastan, 'Ars Poetica'

Larry Levis, 'The Poem You Asked For'

Donald Justice, 'An Elegy Is Preparing Itself' (you'll have to scroll down for it)

Agha Shahid Ali, 'Ghazal'

Basho, 'To a prospective student'

Desmond Skirrow, 'Ode on a Grecian Urn Summarized'

David Lee, 'Loading a Boar'

Ted Hughes, 'The Thought-Fox'

Ronald Wallace, 'The Bad Sonnet'

Peter Meinke, 'The Heart's Location'

Hayden Carruth, 'Saturday at the Border'

I don't care what people say, I have no intention of stopping writing about writing. I believe poems like 'As Is' are important because they help readers understand how they should look at all poetry.

I'll leave you with one last poem of mine, the last one I've written as a matter of fact, and, as another matter of fact, my first honest-to-goodness haiku. I'm blaming Dave King.

a haiku
floating in white space
a receding bird

14th April 2008


Rachel Fox said...

Telling poets not to write poems about poems or poetry is a funny business. It has been said to me...and have I stopped? No. Neither have I stopped writing about life or love or death or whatever I want to write about when the mood takes me. The people who say it are usually involved in poetry in some way (no one else gives a...hoot, hey, it's too early to swear). They might be editors or reviewers but they will most definitely be poets themselves (most editors and reviewers are, aren't they?) why don't they like the idea of your poems about poetry (or mine)? Because most likely they have their own poems about poetry (even if only one...but more likely lots and lots) and theirs are far more along the lines of their own opinions on poetry (as you might expect).

It is a problem with poetry as a whole, I think, and not one that will ever go away. Everyone who writes it wants to be the best word (if not the last) on all the big subjects (and poetry is one of those subjects...maybe not quite up there with life and death... that depends on the poet's mood). Find me a poet who doesn't want to write this century's best poem about love, life, death, roses, beetles, The Beatles, Trivial Pursuit, our times etc etc (if not the best ever,ever, ever) and I'll find you someone who is not telling the whole truth. What is the point without that ambition? Don't you think? Poets are just a right bunch of pedantic know-alls...and we all want to be right. Is that unfair? Or just weird self-loathing? (Don't worry I love and hate myself in equal measure probably). And it is too early and I must get small girl ready for school)...

Dave King said...

I always thought that the one thing for which you cannot reasonably criticize a poet (or an artist, novelist or playwright) is his subject matter. I suppose there might be some caveats to that, mainly on moral grounds, but even there I am not sure.

Ani Smith said...

In my experience, if you write to make sense of things, it follows that you would try to make sense of the compulsion to write. Writing about writing is no different than writing about gardening or heroin addiction or whatever sparks the writer's interest. It also helps to write about writing if you want to continue writing during down times, until you find something else to write about (I don't like the term "writer's block," but that's sort of what I'm referring to here).

So what if it's the ultimate self-referential or congratulatory exercise? I think the people who 'frown upon' a poem about poetry, are frowning upon a reflection of their own suppressed desires and consequent self-loathing and if a poem I wrote could do that, I'd consider it a rousing success.

Jim Murdoch said...

What gets me, Rachel, is that writing poetry about poetry seems so natural to me, and I hate someone coming along and saying you can't do it that way. Poetry is such a broad art form and I don't understand why people insist that things should be done a certain way. It strikes me almost as a fashion thing. It's not that I believe that anything should go – it's opinions like that that have produced so much bad poetry over the years – but that's technique; I don't think any subject should be taboo. That said – and I think this is where you're coming from Dave – some subjects are harder to do justice to and I think poetry as a subject is one of them.

As for writing the best poem ever … I think 'best' is a relative term. I've a post coming up on Thursday about esoteric poetry and the question I'm addressing is really: If a poem needs a pile of notes to help you understand it, is it a good poem? I have to say I'm under no illusions about my poetry. I've always sought to write work that was accessible and packed with as much meaning as I can cram into it, poems that you can grasp immediately but that also have layers. It's probably age but I really don't have the kind of ego I would need to believe I was capable of writing the best poem on anything. What my aim is is to write my best poem on whatever the subject is I'm tackling. The only person any of us is ever really in competition with is ourselves.

Jim Murdoch said...

Ani, that a very valid point you make in your first sentence (not that the rest is not valid) about why we write, amongst other things we write about what we don't know because the writing process is revelatory. What is produced is not always the greatest work but we can always go back to it and polish it.

And poetry of all the arts likely is the most self-referential or maybe self-exploratory is better. Artist's self-portraits are praised – whole galleries are devoted to displaying this most egocentric of art forms – and yet if a poet writes about being a poet he's not taken very seriously. Go figure.

Rachel Fox said...

Well, was early when I wrote that and I hadn't had much sleep. The 'best' is a vague word in many ways and it is true that we all have our own idea of what the best might be and every poet and reader can have lots of different types of best too (funniest, most poignant, strikes a chord with most people, best use of language... and then the biggest coup - trying to get lots of different bests all in one poem). I didn't really mean to talk about 'best' in the sense of competition with others as that can involve a lot of time wasting and energy wasting (though of course there are inevitably elements of comparison involved in related areas such as reviews, competitions and so on). I did mean 'best' as in the feeling that somebody somewhere might think it was the best love poem they'd ever read (for example). That somebody might be another poet or an editor or a reader in no way connected with poetry but whoever they are we do want people to think we're good don't we? Wouldn't we just keep all our poems at home quietly in a book otherwise?

Jim Murdoch said...

Thanks for the follow up, Rachel. I remember my dad once trying to explain perfection to me using cutlery as an example – a spoon is perfect for eating soup but not so good for eating a steak and so on. A perfect poem would be one that ticked all the boxes for a reader, not every reader. I wrote what I thought was a fairly lame love poem which my boss said perfectly encapsulated how she felt about a guy called Barry.

Why do I send my poems out? I've never been so naïve to think that fame and fortune would come looking for me but I've always believed that poetry has power, all writing in fact, and it's a waste of ones talent to keep it hidden in a drawer. I don't think it's arrogant to say I have a talent because I do. I think it's arrogant to make too much of it; there are far more things that I can't do than I can.

I can put things into words. Not everybody can. They need to read to find those words. It's symbiotic. I can put things into words but I can't write science fiction so I read someone who can write science fiction. That's the way the world should be.

Ken Armstrong said...

I think one should write about whatever the hell rocks their boat.

But I also think the 'don't write about your writing' advice may have a little merit for at least some people.

When starting out, some types of writing just feel like a great idea;

Write a play? Good, I'll do a ninety minute monologue, that'll be fun for the audience.

Write a novel? Good, I'll do it all in the first person, that doesn't get tiresome for the reader.

Similarly, I'll write about 'Me Trying To Write' can seem like an excellent idea. But it may actually be one of the most difficult to successfully carry off.

This 'advice' has been broken with massive artistic success - (Friel's 'The Faith Healer', Catcher in the Rye )but it's a lot tougher to do it than it looks.

Art Durkee said...

Sam Hamill's "Arse Poetica" is a send-up of the whole genre, while alos being an example of it.

Frank Zappa: "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture."

Art Durkee said...

I think it's perfectly reasonable to critique a poem on how well or appropriately it handles its subject matter. Critique of the subject matter itself is not dealing with the poem, though, but with politics, or social engagement. It's really an argument with the poet for doing what they did, rather than an argument with the poem.

I have no problem with people engaging with the subject matters of my own poetry, and/or disputing them. That's because is not a polemic, not didactic, not pedantic. Except of course that those words—polemic, etc.—can be used to describe most bad political poetry, which is basically political speech using poetic language. In which case, I think it's very fair game to dispute the poem's subject matter, if the poem is presented as being overtly political. You still have to deal with the quality of the poem itself, though, how well it's written, and whether it succeeds AS A POEM, independent of subject matter.

Conda Douglas said...

I agree with Ken, writing about writing sets the bar real high as it is so self-referential. Your mention of self-portraits got me remembering the famous ones I've seen--and I do believe they may struggle with the same difficulty. I'm thinking of Van Gogh, Rembrandt and Durer. In my opinion, a little off. Too self-referential? Possibly.

Enjoyed the haiku, a favorite form of mine.

Jim Murdoch said...

Thanks for the comment, Ken. If I read you right what you're saying is that writing about writing is something you don't want to tackle until you know what your writing's about. I think it's a necessary route for writers to take though, to examine through a fictive framework (God that sounds pompous), be it a poem, a story or a play, what it is to be a writer.

In my recent poetry what I've been thinking about though is how the reader copes with poetry. That's what 'As Is' is about, getting the reader to think about what's expected of him. It's a problem so many readers have with poems, they don't know how to read them. So I wrote a poem giving them a metaphor the man in the street could relate to. In the other poem I mentioned in the piece, the poem literally stops in the middle for the reader to do something, a bit of audience participation. I think this is a valid and necessary topic for poetry. The problem is, getting it into the hands of the kind of people who need to read it. And that's a topic for another day.

Anonymous said...

Love the post, Jim. And I agree that "As Is" Deserves an A. Nice work.

Writing poems about poetry is something that will forever be done — it is a topic poets know, you know. How can we not write about it.

Of course, writing about it well is a whole different matter. But as you point out, that is actually true of every topic the poet might choose — the trick is still writing about it well.

Rachel Fox said...

For that you (and I don't mean you, Jim,necessarily... I mean you as in 'one' but I just can't use 'one'...I am not the bloody Queen..well, not yet..) have to get out and about in the world...away from poetry nights and poetry magazines and poetry life in general. The world will not come to the poetry open mic (well, not much of it...mainly poets and their poor, long-suffering friends) and it will not read 'Poetry Weekly', 'Poetry Impossible' or 'Poetry and the Temple of Doom'...oh dear, lack of sleep showing again!

Interesting you use the word 'need'...'kind of people who need to read it' 'need' really the word? I'm not sure...

Jim Murdoch said...

Conda, thanks for noticing the haiku. I don't know why I've never been drawn to this form in the past. It probably is the fact that they look easy so they're probably not. I bought a brush pen once and tried my hand at come calligraphy art. Again, not as easy as it looks. I think also what might have put me off haiku in the past was thinking they had to have a 5-7-5 structure and I've always found predefined structures off-putting.

Art, I agree that everything that is behind a poem is academic, only the end result matters and a work of art should be judged solely by what's presented to the audience. I hate critiquing poems where the poet has added some wee comment like, "This was written after such and such…" It makes them impossible to judge objectively.

Shelly, thank you for commenting on the poem. It's one I'm pleased with and never had any doubts that I would find a home for it easily. I'm a little sad that the magazine chose to split it from the other four because they were a good grouping. Once they're published I may well share some more here and talk more on this subject.

And Rachel, maybe 'need' wasn't the perfect word but I was tired when I wrote that too. Okay, from now on we'll have a rule that only people with bright eyes and bushy tales can post comments. How about that?

Rachel Fox said...

In that case I have the perfect candidate (8 weeks old, wet nose etc). It may take a while to teach her to type though...

Angela said...

I agree. We write what we know, and from where our passions come from.

Marion McCready said...

I must admit I find poems about writing poems generally pretty boring. That's not to say there aren't great poems on writing poems out there - you mention Hughes famous one and Plath has a couple of astounding poems on the subject matter also.

Francis Scudellari said...

I like your concept of making poetry more interactive. In these days of mash-ups and hacks, I think that's the next step the form will need to take in order to evolve with contemporary audiences.

And I too love "As Is," not to mention your analysis of poems about poetry. I'm certainly guilty of writing poorly about poetry, nature, and girls who "won't put out," and I'll continue to do so, critics be damned :).

Jim Murdoch said...

Thanks for you comments Angel and Sorlil. We do write what we know but I suppose we have to ask a) how well do we know what we think we know and b) how able are we to communicate what we know? I'm sure that's why there have been so many bad poems written but a bad poem is only a stepping stone to a good poem. The wee poems I posted weren't so great but none of the poems I was writing back then were that great. I got better. And so did my poems about poems.

Jim Murdoch said...

Francis, appreciate the feedback. I've written a couple of poems recently where the reader has to get involved. In one, I deliberately organise the rhythm of the poem that the reader had to take a breath in the middle of a line for the piece to flow but, rather than just leaving it, I actually indicate that a breath is necessary:

Breathe. ( ) Eventually
it will all become clear.

As for what you choose to write, of course you must write what you want … but after you've finished damning those critics have a think about what they're on about. No one likes criticism – I just had a short story lovingly hacked to pieces by a well-meaning editor – but we can always learn from what critics say, even when they're wrong. If they draw a wrong conclusion then what did we do that might have misdirected them? All they have to work with are our words.

Art Durkee said...

"If they draw a wrong conclusion then what did we do that might have misdirected them? All they have to work with are our words."

I have to disagree with this somewhat, if only to point out that critics bring their prejudices and preconceptions to criticism as well. In my own case I've had prose-poems and haibun decried as "that's not poetry!" primarily because the critic is close-minded about prose-poems in general, and has never heard of haibun.

One always have to consider the source. If one has become familiar with a particular critic's prejudices, one can make allowances for them, and get some good feedback nonetheless.

Still, it's not a blank slate: we bring our lives and memories to what we read.

So, while in one way it IS true that all a critic has to work with is our words, at the same time, most critics are not objective, they do have their filters and prejudices, and they can be very wrong if they perceive your writings through their filters.

One reason I have basically stopped participating, for now, in poetry critique groups is that I'm going in a direction with my poetry that even some of my regular readers don't think is poetry. This is a problem, of course, with exploratory and "experimental" poetry in general. A few poems from this past year since my parents passed on are unlike anything I've ever written before, and that has sparked controversy both pro and con. I'm pleased that the poem created a response, but I'm not interested at this time in continually defending my honor as a poet, or being required by critics to explain myself all the damn time. It's a two-edged sword.

Jim Murdoch said...

You are quite right, Art, but, as I've pointed out before, I'm acutely aware that the reader brings his own preconceptions etc to a poem. From the writer's perspective all we hand over to the reader are words, there are no instructions how to read or interpret (and if there are I have reservations about how good the poem really is - see today's blog at Jasmin's Heart).

I agree totally that some people are blinkered. I've just been talking to Rachel Fox about rhyming poetry which is a form I struggle with even when (rarely) done well. But I think I'm big enough to know when a poet has done a good job even if I don't necessarily appreciate their approach.

I only really have experience of one poetry critique group although I have been peeking into another but that's the subject of a whole other blog about sensitive poets. My experience is that most of the people involved in these are hobbyists. There are exceptions but they're rare. And mostly all these people want is to be told how well they've done ... and then I review one of their pieces and they go off in a huff and I never hear from them again. I sometimes wish they would defend themselves. I hate to fight but if someone is open to discuss things a lot can be learned.

As for experimental poetry, I judge it by the same standards as all other poetry: there are words on a page and either I get them or I don't … on their own merits. If I don't then either it's a bad poem or I'm not the right reader for that poem and I turn the page and look for something else to read. I don't like not getting poetry. I recently bought two very large anthologies which, according to the blurb on-line, explained the poems in them; they do not and so I'm left looking at these odd arrangements of words assuming that I'm stupid because here is the poem is a whopping great big anthology so it MUST be good, mustn't it?

Art Durkee said...

I'm the last person to claim that obscurity for the sake of being obscure is good, especially in poetry. Nor do I believe that the arcane, difficult, or nigh-incomprehensible poem is a priori better than doggerel, just because it's arcane, etc. I happen to enjoy honest doggerel; but I also don't take it very seriously as an artform. It's not going to change your life, as a great poem might.

Having said that, I think there is room for difficulty in poetry. If I have to "get" a poem on the first read, if the primary criteria for quality in poetry is easy comprehensibility, well, all too often I've seen that given out as a form of proleteriat reverse-elitism. While poets like Billy Collins or Ted Kooser are easily understandable, and relatively popular, that has nothing to do, in the long run, with the quality of their work. Neither of them are Beckett, who is famously "difficult" and could write circles most poets who are far more easily comprehended.

So I am wary of the criteria of being able to easily "get" a poem. That's a slippery slope that all to readily leads to pandering (cf. Collins and Kooser above), or simplicity for the sake of simplicity (the anti-obscurity position), or, to be honest, prose. Poetry isn't prose, and doesn't need to be, or obey the "rules" of prose. Poetry can still be compelling and memorable even if not easily understood, because of its internal music, its mysterious and archetypal vibe, and so forth.

I think the argument that "if I didn't get it, I must be stupid" is the argument that has been presented by bad academic post-Modern poets, for the most part. The truth often is, their poems just aren't very good.

But experimental poetry is not by essence incomprehensible, nor is it necessarily arcane, obscure, or difficult. It can be challenging in other ways, too. "Experimental" does not have to equate with hard to get.

Jim Murdoch said...

I have to say, Art I like the point you make about poetry not being good. I sometimes feel there is an attitude that grips poets that poetry cannot not be good. I've felt that. I really was the archetypical, airs-and-graces, head-in-the-clouds, can't put a foot wrong right twat … but I grew out of it. I realised that there were nuts and bolts to this poetry lark and I have little time for poetry that can't be explained.

It's the same with experimental poetry, to my mind the poet needs to know what the experiment is all about, why has he done what he's done, what does he hope to achieve? I'm not totally against the "it felt right" explanation but I think it's too often an easy explanation that really explains nothing. The problem is that most of us simply don't know enough to be able to say with confidence that a poem is crap. We can say we don't like it or we don't get it but judging it as not up to scratch isn't so easy.


Taking your haiku a bit further, there is a form called meta-ku, I believe, of which the content is meant to be about the writing of a haiku. I wrote one titled Ink of Wild Roses, but it has apparently been sucked into a black hole of cyberspace.

Jim Murdoch said...

It wasn't hard to find, Susan:

Ink of Wild Roses

find the wild roses,
pour their life into your pen...
now let the words flow

Ken Armstrong said...

Clever man, finding that poem. Now, I lost a biro once...

Okay, dammit, I give up. What tune were you humming? At first I thought it was the theme from The Archers (for fairly obvious reasons) but I've been through loads and I can't make it fit.

I *bet* it's 'tuneless humming' eh?

Jim Murdoch said...

You know, Ken, I never thought to do a real tune. I missed that one, eh?

Art Durkee said...

The only forms I regularly write in are haiku and its related forms, haibun, haiga, tanka, renga, etc. I like to make up variants, too, like the heyokaku. Metaku sounds fun. I probably have written one or two of those without knowing the word "metaku" before.

I was once a trained calligrapher, and I still work type and handwriting into a lot of my artwork. So here's a multimedia haiku, I suppose you could call it:

Calligraphy of the Body

Jim Murdoch said...

Enjoyed both pieces, Art, especially the bit about Wile E. Coyote, You learn something new every day. As for the other, I suppose it would be classifiable as modern haiga. Eventually I will get round to a blog about all these variants on Japanese forms but there are too many other things that I need to get out of the road first.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

hi Jim,

"As Is" is not a poem about poetry, in my mind. It's a metaphor. It's a poem as metaphor. Ron Silliman this week featured a poem by Christian Hawkey. It's called "Unwritten Poems" and I think it fits in the same genre.

It's not a genre I invented but I went through a period where I wrote scads of 'em. Even got a few published.

The "poem poem" talks about itself (if often in the third person); and the self of the poem is language and how language is capable/incapable of illustrating thought. Thought and language are not the same, but language is the only tool we have for investigating thought and can easily be confused with thought. (Lots of easy confusion here, frankly.) The poem poem is a metaphor for thought -- as such it is somewhat like Philosophy. Unlike the usual philosophical writings, however, the poem poem draws attention to its materials, the language that makes it up. The poem poem doesn't seek to be transparent, to make the words disappear so you can see its message, rather when its language seems transparent that is the illusion it is pointing out.

Jim Murdoch said...

That's an important distinction, Glenn. 'As Is' was always intended as a poem about the relationship between the reader and the poem, about his or her expectations. It was also a comment on the fact that so many magazines have this policy of not publishing poems that have appeared elsewhere, i.e. "used poems" as if a poem is something that can go off. To use your distinctions, I probably don't write "poem poems" but labels have never worried me. The point to the post, and your comment really hammers this home, is that poetry IS a valid subject for poetry.

Ping services