Bow, lyre, poetics

books~~

I’m reading a collection of essays by Octavio Paz (Mexican poet, 1914-1998), The Bow and the Lyre (published in Spanish in 1956 and translated from the 1967 2nd edition by Ruth Simms).

[I like this photo of him but have not yet tracked down the year and the photographer. I’ll try to do that soon for permissions reasons.]

Paz is so quotable. He’s full of marvelous little aphoristic-sounding phrases such as:

“Poetry reveals this world; it creates another. Bread of the chosen; accursed food. It isolates; it unites.” The first chapter of the book begins with these phrases and images, almost biblical in their parallel rhetorical structure and intentionally paradoxical.

“Obedience to rules; creation of others. Imitation of the ancients, copy of the real, copy of a copy of the Idea. Madness, ecstasy, logos.” Here, he moves to triads… “play, work, ascetic activity…vision, music, symbol.”

Then he moves on to style, metricity, historical antecedents, art. “The unrepeatable and unique nature of the poem is shared by other works: paintings, sculptures, sonatas, dances, monuments. To all can be applied the distinction between poem and utensil, style and creation…the diversity of the arts does not hinder but rather emphasizes their diversity.”

The first chapter is philosophical, a kind of poetics taking a vast history as context and individuality as scope. I might have quibbles with some of his assertions; I might find his metaphors and analogies a bit too facile. But I do find the writing juicy and thought-provoking.

~

A fine essay, I must say, is Paz’s fourth chapter on verse and prose. I could read this text over a few times, I could use it to begin a second master’s thesis or to help me teach an advanced class on poetry. Marvelous work! I especially appreciate his insights into the necessity and diversity of rhythm as culturally/linguistically based. And, as a writer from the USA, I love his thinking about the Americas and Europe, our language precedents and influences, and how Paz interprets their differences. What a terrific, brief but clear, exploration into Eliot and Pound! Into Mallarmé an Baudelaire and Poe and the German Romantics, into Joyce and Neruda and Lorca, and the difference between Spanish-speaking poets of the Americas and those of Spain. What a creative inquiry into the development of free verse in three or four different cultures and eras!

I learned a good deal. More later, I suppose.

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Multi-booking

Ah, the pile of books at my bedside. And the ones on my desk at work. And the one I left by the living room sofa.

When I was a younger bookworm, I was resolute about reading, or devouring, one book at a time—often one book at a sitting, in those less-busy days. I cannot indulge myself in that sort of approach to reading anymore, however; I have learned to multi-book.

Some books lend themselves to multi-booking more than others. I do not think I could re-read The Brothers Karamazov while reading other texts. In fact, novels are the one form of reading that I still try to read with my former one-book-at-a-time method. Various forms of non-fiction, though, are terrific for book meshing. It’s amazing how sometimes a synthesis occurs in my mind while reading multiple, randomly-unrelated texts: a book on typography, a philosophy book, a brief treatise on tree-pruning, the biography of a writer or artist.

I can also read poetry collections severally and simultaneously. Diversity of style or subject matter doesn’t matter much; I read poems more or less individually, anyway, and then go back and re-read for a sense of the collection as a whole. The first read is one I can pick and choose from to get a sense of the style, craft, strategies, and tone of the poems. The second read I may approach more wholly, to get a sense of the poet. But first, I like to read the poems.

Something I can do while reading other poets’ work, as I would in a literary journal.

The diversity, the styles, the differing contexts…the books, the poems, the subjects seem to begin a discourse with one another that is often inspirational. Taking a walk after reading both Nabokov’s Lectures on Literature and a few chapters of an entomology textbook resulted in my poem “Luminaries.”

Might I be interested in hearing a conversation between Whitman and Heaney? Sappho and Gregory Orr? Lorca and Kim Addonizio? Reading poetry puts them in touch with one another through their work and my imagination.

Sometimes, I still feel dismayed at how rarely I get the chance to curl up in a hammock or chair and allow myself the opportunity to plow through a book uninterrupted, undistracted. I have learned to adapt to other reading strategies, however, and have therefore never managed to stop gorging on books.

Which is all to the good.