I have been discussing one of my poems with an alert school student and it began as a maybe/maybe not moment that relaxed into a small pleasure.
The poem is an oldie so re-visiting it was interesting – returning as a reader, feeling my way back into the poem enough to articulate some of the meanings and devices used. It is also a lyric poem, and therefore reminds me of the smaller percentage of my poems that carry that character of habitation. For years I have not exactly resisted the lyric – I must written a hundred lyric poems – but preferred to warp the I into various masquerades and othernesses, or simply write without it.
There are traps in the lyric which many poets slip into and for all my wariness I must have too: the too-easy self-posturing, abstract propositions never argued into authority, the automatic assumption therefore of ‘authenticity’ and even the plain and (ever undead) gothic sentimentality… So even though the lyric dominates Australian poetry, and accounts for many successes, there are endlessly more poems of sop or phoniness. Poems that assume the ‘I’ but use it without rigour or perhaps even with intention in poems that are full of claims to insight which are in fact rhetorical gestures… poems of I leaning on the assumption of a greater truth because of it, and a false belief of integrity in the poet and poem seeming to speak together of lived experience.
When the rhetorical reach is high, and wildly over-wrought, readers can be fooled, convinced they are perceiving astute flights of feeling (in the recent success of poems by Luke Davies, for example) when the flight is just more empty gesturing and the abstract hollowness I’ve referred to. Waffle that sounds impressive but is more often than not bearing the worst aspects of the portentous. The lyric is too often used unthinkingly and carelessly – I felt this, I write about it, the poem must be ‘valid’. This is another error of ‘entitlement’. There too many unthinking attempts at the style and in use of this device of the speaking I.
And the lyric can be restrictive. It need not be. Anyway, with all this in mind, I have obviously been considering the lyric, and a return to a more varied and complex exploration of it. This school exercise of reading and writing about a lyric poem has been strangely rewarding. The particular poem the student chose enacts an epiphany of sorts and this return has released another and different kind of epiphany in me – one to do with style and the latent elements of style which we carry with us through many experiments and innovations. And have perhaps forgotten the value of.