Iain Cameron's Diary
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2005-10-05 - 8:09 a.m.
In looking round for Godel Escher and Bach I have unearthed Robert Skelton’s book on Poetic Truth. Skelton was born in England in the mid 20s - educated here, he moved to Vancouver where he became a university teacher and poet. He too seems to have been attracted to aspects of neo-paganism and his bio says that he became a witch. Skelton died in the 90s but he was given a posthumous honary degree by Victoria University in British Columbia - where he worked. He edited what clams to be Canada’s premier literary journal.
His book on poetic truth is, nonetheless, a pretty good attempt at a plain account of the ways in which poems might be said to be true. On the one hand he doesn’t rule out the idea that a poem might pass on factual information - as for example you ay learn something about Grantchester from Rupert Brooke. But he also quotes approvingly Macleish’s Ars Poetica which concludes famously - a poem should not mean but be. This is a much quoted line now.
At its very simplest Skelton suggests a poem means in (at least) two ways at the same time - the discursive way and the poetic way .
(Maybe there is some sort of link here with Godel arithmetic where numbers do two jobs - they work in the ordinary way representing classes and at the same time code statements about the number system. Arithmetic means in two ways.).
Within the poetic system there is an attempt to get the reader to share something of the poet’s situation and maybe even some specific experience. The first stage in this communication is the way that the poet invites the reader to consider that he has something extra he wants to convey - signaling his intent to say more/different stuff. This is necessary because the ‘extra’ can only be secured if the reader is prepared to engage with the possibilities in the poem - its coding. Certain symbolically rich words and associated grammar are amongst the tools usually employed by poets in signaling that he has a deeply coded message.
Skelton distinguishes between poetry and magic because the magician projects a confident belief that the manipulation of words can control or modify non verbal reality. Poets don’t go this far although they usually have a belief in the unusual potency of their words. Skelton’s key word for the poetic is ‘explanation’ - poems are a means whereby poets explain themselves.
You can see why Kant thought that poetry was the highest art-form. It s upfront about the fact that it wants to work as over with a code - a way of connecting with our transcendental apparatus. Joni Mitchell on the other hand is suspicious of poetry - ts a mistake to let the poet take the controls.
I drove to Easton today - a village above the Welland Valley near Stamford. I went up the motorway to Leicester and then due East - with the aim of looking at the landscape which I didn’t know. I also wanted to avoid the A14 - which turned out t be a good idea.. The landscape in question is on the Leicestershire/Rutland border and it looked very fine - quite large scale - hills up to 700 feet and dramatic valleys - unusual shapes suggesting some larger shaping of the landscape. This is the part of England between the M1 and A1 - just below the level of the Wash - just below Rutland Water.
On the trip I listened to Everything But the Girl - the 1994 CD with two versions of Missing on it - the remix of which became a big hit internationally. To my surprise I discovered that the CD also has many of the usual suspects on it - an arrangement by H Robinson, D Thompson on acoustic bass, D Mattacks on drums, a burst of R Thompson on guitar. I played it three times in a row. Fans of the band say it is their best.
I am watching a DVD about Glenn Gould - an eccentric Canadian pianist - he pays Orlando Gibbons, Schoenberg, Bach and talks a lot about his approach. He likes the atonal side of Schoenberg but not the serialism. He explains why he gave up recitals - how sees Berg in relation to Webern etc. He experiments with using sound perspective on a piece as a film director might use visual perspective - this strikes me as a pretty good idea
This bout of vids amounts to treatment of four Plath poems , one by her husband a sonnet by Baudelaire.