Monday, 2 February 2009

Why "Hermetic Poetry --> Hatred" Is True

Have you heard of hermetic poetry?
Don't Google it. Not yet. I will give you an example, and then you may Google it.

For my American Literature class I have to read some of "Tender Buttons" by Gertrude Stein; this consists of three poems or poetry collections, all of which fall under the genre 'hermetic poetry,' according to the back cover.

Here is an excerpt:
In the inside there is sleeping, in the outside there is reddening, in the morning there is meaning, in the evening there is feeling. In the evening there is feeling. In feeling anything is resting, in feeling anything is mounting, in feeling there is resignation, in feeling there is recognition, in feeling there is recurrence and entirely mistaken there is pinching. All the standards have steamers and all the curtains have bed linen and all the yellow has discrimination and all the circle has circling. This makes sand (From ROASTBEEF, a section of "Food").
That is about the most coherent passage I've found in her poetry. Also witness:
Dirt and not copper makes a color darker. It makes the shape heavier and
makes no melody harder (From DIRT AND NOT COPPER, a section of "Objects").
Also, try to understand this:
A large box is handily made of what is necessary to replace any substance. Suppose an example is necessary, the plainer it is made the more reason there is for some outward recognition that there is a result. ¶ A box is made sometimes and them to see to see to it neatly and to have the holes stopped up makes it necessary to use paper (From A BOX, a section of "Objects").
Do you notice the helpful punctuation? Yeah, neither do I. Also, the plainer what is made? To what result? If you will give me some sort of syntactical coherence, could you maybe give me content? Obviously not.
And it gets so-called better. I'll try to preserve form here.


      Rub her coke.


      Black ink best wheel bale brown.
      Excellent not a hull house, not a pea soup, no bill no care, no precise no past pearl pearl goat.


      Aider, why aider why whow, whow stop touch, aider whow, aider stop the muncher, muncher munchers.
      A jack in kill her, a jack in, makes a meadowed king, makes a to let."

That's how "Objects" ends. I wanted to throw the book down the balcony (I was in the library, on the balcony) and then go set it on fire.
If you haven't guessed yet, hermetic poetry is a genre which deliberately frustrates meaning. It comes from being hermetically sealed, in that no air can enter or escape the container. In the case of poetry, you can replace "air" with meaning and "container" with text. It apparently means something to the author and only to the author, who uses symbols only he or she understands. Excellent, eh? What an artistic, creative, avante-garde waste of my time. If a text is not to some degree communicative, then it serves no purpose.

I recognize that this text is serving to make me think about the role of text. Can something constitute a text if it refuses to be communicative? It's the whole "what is art" question, but framed with particular facets of the debate in mind.

Anyway, it seems to serve like a failure of a Rorschach test. Some of it's scary, because it seems to have meaning, or non-meaning, which finally allows to glimpse inside the head of the speaker--and what I saw was disturbing:
Book was there, it was there. Book was there. Stop it, stop it, it was a cleaner, a wet cleaner and it was not where it was wet, it was not high, it was directly placed back, not back again, back it was returned, it was needless, it put a bank, a bank when, a bank care (BOOK, a section in
"Stop it, stop it" made me think of Hollywood-style Multiple Personality Disorder. Then it made me think rape. Then it made me think a schizophrenic or OCD child rocking in a corner, asking her memories to stop it. Not one of those is a particularly fun image, really. I'm now thinking the whole thing's just about a misplaced book, but that's just it. You feel crazy trying to pin this down with meaning. "Jabberwocky" asks you to construct meaning, or elaborate on what shades of meaning are visible in the text. Building a narrative there is fun. "Book" is like a trying to make sense of a funhouse, only the doors in this funhouse can't be opened from the inside and the people in there with you haven't seen the outside world in a while. It's like trying to interpret an acid trip or measure the particles in Frank the Rabbit. It makes just enough sense that you see how messed up it is, and you can't understand, and it's scary.

I know people will read meanings into all of this. But that's just it: they'll be hallucinated readings. The meaning will not be there.

My feelings toward this style of poetry is a little strong, and it needs a strong word. I dislike the concept of hatred--I can smell brimstone when I use that word--so I don't really mean that I hate hermetic poetry. Obviously it fascinates me enough that I ranted about it. But I strongly think it's stupid.


Jon Wong said...

Oh no! You know I can't stand reading stuff like this...

Cait said...

I completely love this post.

I empathize with you and funnily enough I do want to chuck a couple of my school books off a balcony.

But in all seriousness. Fantastic post. I think it's the highlight of the day so far :)

skatej said...

Nonsensical poetry like this evokes strange images in my head, none of them something I want to think about before bed.
My Abnormal Psychology teacher once read us a piece written by a woman with schizophrenia and it sounded a lot like this, but less structured. I'll see if I can get a copy of it for you because it's an interesting read.

R. Craigen said...

I note the "post" and "poet" differ by only one letter.

Coincidence? I think not.

Anonymous said...

Everyone is entitled to their opinions and entitled as well to air their opinions for others to agree or disagree, as much or as little as they choose. The important moment to take away from this is that you are communicating and creating dialogue. That is invaluable. Might I suggest that you do not have to love or even enjoy this type of poetry. It is important to keep in mind there is meaning behind every effort to express and not all meaning can be spelled out for you. This poetry is meant to be read aloud (as the sounds of the words are important)and the meaning?...well, that sometimes needs to be felt rather than explained. Do not close yourself to new possibilities. That is ultimately how we fail to live.

Good blogging by the way.

Reverend Rick
(yes, an actual Reverend)

Christian H said...

Reverend Rick:

You are absolutely right. I would no longer stand behind this post; not only did I write it more than a few years ago, I also changed my mind a few days later:

Thanks for commenting!

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