Thursday, July 06, 2006

David Bottoms on Poetry and Philosophy

I found this passage from an interview with David Bottoms quite compelling (although I am not sure I agree with it one-hundred percent). I'd be interested in any comments people may have on it:

"[Young poets] want to write ideas and not poetry, and I'm of the old 'show me, don't tell me' school. Students sometimes have trouble with that. Someone asked me once in a class, 'Hey, but can't the poem be an idea?' I said no, absolutely not, and I stick by that. On the other hand, it can express an idea, and it usually will if it's any good. Karl Shapiro puts this well in an essay called 'What is Not Poetry.' He says, 'If poetry has an opposite, it is philosophy. Poetry is a materialization of experience; philosophy is the abstraction of it.' I love that, and it's a point I try to get across to all my students. Okay, think about this. Here's a story I like to tell. It's another simplification, sure, but it makes the point well enough for students. A poet and a philosopher are walking across Woodruff Park [in Atlanta], going over to Fairlie-Poplar for some Thai food. When they reach Peachtree Street they see a yellow flash go by, then hear a gigantic crash under the traffic light at Five Points. A yellow MG has tried to beat the light and smashed into the side of a furniture truck. It's a mess. Well, the poet and the philosopher rush over and try to help. A crowd gathers, somebody's on a cell phone calling an ambulance. The driver of the MG has been thrown into the street. The sports car's a tangle of crushed metal. Gasoline, blood, and glass are everywhere. So, the philosopher takes it all in and immediately abstracts. He thinks 'Accident, Chaos, Fate.' The poet, on the other hand, whips out her notebook and writes down everything that happened. The yellow flash on Peachtree Street, the smell of the smoking brakes, the spilled gasoline, the sound of the impact, the blood in the street. She goes back to her apartment and fleshes it all out on a legal pad as vividly as she can, then she types it up into a poem, and sends it to Five Points. You get your copy a few months later and turn to a poem called 'Smash Up.' You read the poem. You ponder it for a few seconds. You think 'Accident, Chaos, Fate.' The point is this. The poet and the philosopher are both traveling to the same city. The poet is simply taking the scenic route. The poet is trying to make the world material on the page, so that the reader can abstract, so that the reader can take what clues the world offers and decipher meaning from them. The poet wants the reader to participate, to experience the event in a vivid way."

1 comment:

Bruce Loebrich said...

"Accident, Chaos, Fate."
It’s a poem I appreciate.

Food un-ate,
Brought short by fate,

A yellow flash will die.

The mess, the crowd,
Screams quite loud.
The journalist expounds:

"Metal, gas, blood and glass."

An eloquent account,
Though Vivid sounds,
Smash Up still seems crass.

Three words abstract
Beat out by far...

The accident report of a yellow car.