Rachel Blau DuPlessis

Poetry Questions

Often, when faced with work you want to understand, it is good to try simply to describe it, and then go on systematically to address one of these topics. The rubrics are one place to begin; they are not the last word. If you don’t understand what some of these terms mean, please look them up or ask. A few poets’ names on this sheet are keyed to important contemporary documents in poetics, or features for which this poet is particularly noted.

Dictionary: semantic and etymological work. Look up all words in the poem that you don’t know, but also look up some words you do know that seem vital to the poem. Use the OED on-line—access through Temple Library, Research Data Bases on the Web (for all web-based materials). Figure out what in-depth resonance this knowledge gives to the poem.

Structure/ Organization of Statement. Beginning-middle-end. Part/ whole relationships. The meaning of the ending. Questions around closure as a particularly sensitive spot (cf. Hejinian). Dispersive (projective) or “composition by field” (cf. Olson). Emotional arrangement or trajectory. Sequence of disclosure (Oppen). Pace of materials. Collage, montage, juxtaposition, fragment, “interruption” considered as different rhetorics and choices--each of these strategies may have multiple justifications and be used for quite different reasons. Discursive structure, argument. Repetition as a tactic. Variation, cutups, recombinings. Seriality.

Form. Metrics or rhythm in relation to form. Fixed (received) form or invented form; uses of or allusions to existing fixed forms (e.g. sonnet, sestina), including forms from outside the poetic tradition (e.g. primer, diary, index). Form in relation to the page. Choices of “prose forms” or “writing.” Invention of any kind of patterned arrangements. Procedural form. Socio-cultural allusions of particular forms.

Organization of the Line. Line break, rhyme, caesura, space inside the line, the size of the line segment, the variety of sizes of line segments. Segmentivity (my term for what distinguishes poetry from prose). What motivates line break in each case. Line in relation to breath and the performing body. Line in relation to syntax. Line break and the meanings of line break in relation to the form. Line in relation to the page and material text (cf. Olson). Line break and semantic hinges. Differences in poetics based on differences in line. Part/ whole relations and the line. Metrics and the establishment of line.

Imagery. Nature of imagery. How imagery is deployed, and what kind--tendency to metaphor (something described in terms of another) or to metonymy (additive list-like juxtapositions)? Poetic traditions on which the imagery draws (descriptive, allegorical, metaphysical, surrealist, kenning). Allusions in the imagery. Development of images through the poem. Consistency or inconsistency of images--function? Intensity of images. What imagery is and does in a poem. Argument proposed by the sequence of images.

Semantic Issues. The themes, materials and conclusions offered by the text. The unrolling of argument. The "work" done by the text, social, personal, cultural. (Andrews: “Technicians of the Social” answering Rothenberg: “Technicians of the Sacred”) The assumptions, values, and conclusions of the text. Method as part of meaning, or as the whole of meaning (cf. Silliman). Attitudes to and uses of the social, the historical (cf. Howe), to modernity.

Issues of Sound. Sound map. Sound pattern, including rhyme--regular or randomized. Metrics and rhythm as part of sound. Levels and intensities of sound (cf. Mackey). Sound in relation to semantic issues: Puns, trans-segmental drift (phonemic drift). Crypt words or shadow words (associative, allusive, behind the word). The “phonotext, acoustical dimensions of poetry, the soundscape” (Bernstein).

Linguistic Issues. Diction, diction levels, diction ranges, including poetic diction, colloquial diction. Language modes and their social allusions. Diction, tone and creation of subject position. Key words in a poem and their etymology or historical resonance. Babble, dialect, polyvocality, multi-lingual strategies, heteroglossia, non-standard uses or mixes; ideolect, transformation of idioms (cf. Mullen). “Language as productive”: uses of dictionary, lateral and horizontal associations; phonemic shifting. Found language, use of documents and social texts. Text generation and intention.

Genre. Allusions to or uses of such genres as epic, lyric, ballad, elegy, ode, satire, song, fragment, epistle, manifesto, hymn, cento. Including language, form, subjectivity typical of any of the genres. Relationship of the poem to time (or the temporality used or implied by any given genre). Generic mixes; the heterogeneric, hybridity. "New" genres: such as procedurally derived form, sound or phonemic poetry, non-narrative prose, list. The discovery and use of any generic inspiration: manifesto, alphabet, “writing off” or “through” another poem, homophonic translation.

Tradition. Ancestors of the poem or poetics. Intertextualities and allusions to prior poetic work, dialogues between this work and other works, genres, poets. Dialogues between the poem/ poet and other artistic traditions, such as visual artists’ works. Anxieties about influence; influence as productive. Traditions more inclusive than the “West.” Allusions to other poems and practices. Translation strategies as part of the poem--not necessarily translating from other languages. Working through art of the time, music of the time as the tradition of the poetic work (cf. Coolidge; cf. Mackey). What poem or poets does it appear that this poem draws on? The page as “never blank” (DuPlessis).

The Poetics. The theory of the poem (cf. Cage). The method of the poem--method as foregrounded and explored. Its assumptions, its gains, its losses. The philosophical tradition in which it exists. Reasons for writing. Functions of writing. The nature of the poet as defined by the poetics. Claims for the generation of the poem--inspiration, expression, found language, chance, numerological procedures, historical and spiritual imbeddedness and explorations. How is poetic authority assumed and deployed, or avoided?

Syntax. Syntax in its relation to line break, to structure, to semantic issues ("meaning"). Pronouns as identifying speaker, addressee. Nature of syntax (parataxis, hypotaxis). Unusual features of syntax related to semantics or to line. Nature of nouns (abstract, concrete, simple, complex). Verb tenses and movement. Phrases, clauses, modifiers. The ways syntax and the line interact to create poetic meaning. The ways meaning shifts when order of phrases is shifted. Syntax and line together controlling the “sequence of disclosure” (Oppen).

"Voice"and/ or “Consciousness.” Notions of subjectivity displayed in the work. The kinds of "I," if any (cf. Duncan: multiplication of subjectivities). Critique of, or use of narrative, meditative, dramatic, or lyric kinds of subjectivity. Besides “I,” other pronouns and their functions and social roles in poems. Experiments with consciousness in its relation to language. “I/you” relations in the poem. The uses of figures of Other or interlocutors or listeners as depicted in the poem. Who or what is the implied “ear.” Are there characters or personae in the poem? Questions of subjectivity in collaboration. Who is author; what is authorship? Gender materials and other social locations as manifest in text.

Material Text. Page space and its meanings: the arrangement or visual presentation of the poem on the page. White space. Typography--letter size, fonts. Capital letters, and where used (i.e. at the beginning of lines? of sentences? elsewhere?). Deployment of punctuation (regular or a-normative). Letters themselves….Interactions of technology and the materiality of the text.

Title. The “title to the poem”: nature and meaning of the title as the first thing encountered (cf. Anne Ferry). Issues raised by the title and by any ancillary textual material or paratext (dedication, epigraph, gloss, notes, dates, etc.) What occupies the title space? Expressive possibilities of titles: introductory? claiming authority? saying something “about” the poem? being an integral part of the poem? Evasions of titling--implications of no title. Title and authority: entitlement.

The Institution of Poetry. How is it taken--seriously, solemnly, sacredly, spoofingly, resistantly (etc.) (cf. O’Hara). What is wrong with “poetry” at any given moment in people’s critiques? What is right with it--what potential does it have? The institutions of literary production. The poem as an act in poetics. The poem as an intervention.

Analysis by imitation or deformation. If you were to posit ideas for future work from this poem (work by you, by the poet her- or himself), what would they be? What imitative acts might flow from this work? How would you deform or collect material from this in ways that express something about it? What projects would you posit that express, or transform some of the possibilities or findings implicit in this work? Re-ordering, isolating, altering, adding. Reading as Writing; Writing as Reading (cf. Osman). Oulipian substitutions (OULIPO—Ouvroir de la littérature potentialle). Mechanical operations such as cut-ups, stencils, blackouts, new juxtapositions. Reading and writing as dialectical: “reading backward”; “deformance” (Jerome McGann/ Lisa Samuels) as interpretive acts with generic, and generative implications.