Surrealist Doodle

Surrealist Doodle
This was used as the cover of Karawane in 2006 and I have included it in on a number of bags and postcards over the years. Someone on the subway asked me if it was a Miro. I was very flattered!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins

This is a little something I am working on that will be part of a big something--ie, a 20-25 page paper--on GMH and the avant garde. This is just a modest beginning. Hope you like it.

Modernist writings in English, particularly those of the avant-garde have two particular threads to them: interiority and language, threads that frequently come together in work. Andre Breton wrote in the Second Manifesto of Surrealism, “Whoever says expression says, to begin with, language . . . you must not be surprised to see Surrealism place itself first of all almost exclusively on the plane of language.” While they all come at the subject with different perspectives and approaches, it is safe to say that 1ll poets are concerned with language, just as all poets are concerned with imagery and even with the question “what is the good life?” All avant-gardes begin somewhere. Breton traces Surrealism back to fairy tales and even back to the cave paintings of ancient times. Moreover, we can look to the generation that came immediately before Surrealism and contemporary avant gardes, to see their more recent influences. One such influence is Gerard Manley Hopkins. Many theorists agree that Hopkins' own use of language and his theories of language put him ahead of his time while his nature imagery and his own deism make him very much a product of Victorian England. It seems not too coincidental that Hopkins didn't not have a complete collection of his own poetry published in his lifetime, but rather his collection of poetry was not published until 1918, a time when Surrealism in France was taking over the stage from Dada, with both movements having a desire to use language to spur different types and ways of thinking, to scramble the ordinary ways of thinking that lead to ruts and worse, for the Russian Futurists, familiarity. Even now, Hopkins and his use of language remains an engima to many literary critics who seek a box to place him in, as either a religious poet, a Victorian poet, or even an abstruse poet. Hopkins defied all of the expectations of his day with his writings and his theories of the inscape and the instress as well as with the religious themes of his work, which were not nearly as orthodox as a Catholic writer of the 21st century. In fact, there are movements within the contemporary Catholic Church to bring Hopkins' view more in line with the orthodoxy of the faith than there was in Hopkins' own day.

In a 2003 article entitled “Poetry: A Prognosis,” critic Dick Davis cites the poets Emily Dickinson and Gerard Manley Hopkins as difficult-to-read eccentrics who are responsible for the problems faced by contemporary poetry. He describes Hopkins as an “odd-ball poet whose work is hard to paraphrase and to scan” (28). Davis states that the notion of a poem that can't be paraphrased would have been completely alien to anyone before 1800 (29). Apparently Hamlet's soliloquies could have been neatly summed up, with no attention to language or detail. Davis blames poets like Hopkins for causing poetry to lose its vernacular audience (30). Those darned odd-ball poets. If only they would write more accessible poetry, rather than being concerned with language and the stuff of poetry. I perceive this, ironically, as a peculiarly modernist critique of poetry. Is it that modern poetry, let's say starting from the mid- to late-19th century is more obscure and more difficult to understand? Or maybe readers and audiences of poetry are more sophisticated, having come to expect more from poetry? Did the rise of the novel kill interest in poetry? Or did it free poetry to be able to be more focused on language and form and less focused on communicating a point to people? What about film, radio, television, popular music? There seem to be many more options available than just poetry that would cause people to turn away from it than just blaming a few poets for being odd-ball and making poetry “too difficult.”

TBC . . .

No comments: