Tuesday, 23 October 2012

An Ear for Poetry

Has the noisy modern world drowned out our ear for poetry? I suspect not. While it may be true that contemporary society both fears and yearns for silence, it is also clear to me that performance poetry, poetry slams, and many other street manifestations such as that of griots and rapping, are alive and well. 

While traditional poetry presents a variety of obstacles to the modern reader, we should not forget the appeal of the ear that chimes so well with popular contemporary consciousness, and indeed constitutes a significant public domain for the exchange of ideas, thoughts, and feelings. These sentiments are leading me to reconsider one of our greatest but most neglected poets: Dryden.

In the Preface to the 1945 edition of his book John Dryden: A Study of his Poetry, Mark van Doren wrote 

"We have cults of sensibility and sincerity; we are marvellously responsive to ambiguities; we know how to plot the oblique course, to surprise words into revealing three senses when there was none before; we can find politics in metaphor, morality in syntax, and myth in minor parts of speech. But we do not act as if we had ears. Ears are not everything, but the absence of them leaves poetry dangerously dead. 

Dryden had a great ear. He attended to the craft of sound, and not vulgarly as Poe and Swinburne did, but with a man's interest in the muscle, the sinew, and the nerve of a poem that must be both heard and understood as saying something. He liked to say things, and in time perfected a verse instrument that could say for him anything he was capable of thinking or feeling. Poetry itself was an instrument upon which he spoke and played. The rhythmical organization of a poem got as much of his attention as the plausibility of its statement."

[T. S. Eliot's Selected Essays (p. 306) referred to Mark van Doren's The Poetry of Dryden, 1920, which was based on his Columbia Uni PhD]

I'm assuming that the 'masculinity' that Pope and many others associated with Dryden was associated with the public role of the satirist and dramatist? How would you reconsider that category from a 21st century perspective? 

If you are an English poetry scholar, let me say that I'm looking for any recommended polemical works published since the 1970s that provide idiosyncratic discussions of the critical relationship between John Dryden and T.S. Eliot.Ideally, I'm also seeking out any writings that are able to move from notions of 'difficulty' to 'accessibility' and perhaps open up these poets, and the enduring relevance or value of their prose works, to new readers.

Beyond the familiar - and much derided - emphasis on the 'exploded' notion of 'dissociation of sensibility' and 'reputation and traditions' school, I'm also interested in coming across studies by poets (perhaps working outside academia?), who have responded to the idea of finding a public voice, and to 'finding an ear' for poetry.

Can anyone help?

I think that this is quite a promising topic in terms of inclusivity, and hope to publish some more blogs on poetry as sound, and orality, in the near future.

Further Reading 

Edwards, Paul; Kool G Rap. How to Rap: The Art & Science of the Hip-Hop MC. Chicago Review Press. 

Kool Moe Dee; et al. There's A God On The Mic: The True 50 Greatest MCs. Thunder's Mouth Press. 

stic.man (2005). The Art Of Emceeing. Boss Up Inc.. 

Krims, Adam (2001). Rap Music And The Poetics Of Identity. Cambridge University Press.

Alan Light; et al. (1999). The Vibe History of Hip Hop. Three Rivers Press. 

Jeff Chang; D.J. Kool Herc (2005). Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation. Picador. 

Sacha Jenkins; et al. (1999). Ego Trip's Book of Rap Lists. St. Martin's Griffin.

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