Thursday, June 07, 2007

Not So Plain Style

As a counter to the lines from Rilke below and another favorite quote, here’s a passage from Tony Hoagland’s “On Disproportion,” from Real Sofistikashun: Essays on Poetry and Craft:

I have a friend who once edited a poetry magazine and returned manuscripts with a note saying, “a little more savoir faire, please.” Arch and arrogant, I thought at the time. Now I can understand, I think, what he meant, and reading many poems I, too, often want to say, “a little more excess, style, violence, savoir faire, please.” It was Rilke, our great model for the ecstatic poet, who asks in the Ninth Duino Elegy, “Are we, perhaps, here just for saying: “House, / Bridge, Fountain, Gate, Jug, Olive tree, Window,— / possibly: Pillar, Tower?” These lines, suggesting a life’s work in the plain style, imply that an artist would be well exercised if kept on a diet of all nouns.

But Rilke the poet, in the poem itself, hardly slows down at his own suggestion; he whirls, pirouettes, leaps, spins, commands, begs, refuses—and goes on to add, “but for saying, remember, / oh, for such saying as never the things themselves / hoped so intensely to be.”

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