Poetry that aims at the heart seeks to do so (usually) through an affective catharsis; poetry that aims at the mind seeks to do so through a certain narrative-thematic skillfulness. If we are merely emotionally moved, or merely intellectually stimulated, it is likely that what we are reading is decidedly minor poetry. Minor poetry maintains a narrow focus on a goal that, however elaborately formulated, stays either in the heart or in the mind. Given the battles that have been waged on this blog and elsewhere, it is useful to note that, between the two camps at war in American poetry (mainstream and post-avant), there is an agreement on each side to reduce the other side to a caricature of one of these two forms. Centrists perpetually accuse post-avantists of being all head; post-avant poets perpetually accuse Centrists of being bleeding heart sentimentalists. However, these battles are often waged at the level of content. Where form is concerned, people tend to clam up, often because they lack knowledge of the formal mechanics of poetry. I want to posit a new possibility that has not, to my knowledge, heretofore been posited. What if someone were to put together post-avant, as a branch of avant-garde poetry (as it exists now), and formalism? What if someone were to kick open the door and declare the commensurability of form and intellect, of letting heart in the back door via a level of formal elegance, employing the architectural techniques of the avant-garde?
I have felt the need to justify to myself why, after all this time and several books, I keep coming back to form, feeding on it so to speak, now that I know what I know. If the arbitrary nature of signs or signifiers means that we would be foolhardy to trust in their transparency, does that negate lapidary or ornamental usages of language? I don't think so. It's not as if Saussure was the first thinker to point out the deficiencies of linguistic signs. John Locke said roughly the same thing 120 years before Saussure, and the major Romantics were all fluent in Locke. Yet the inquiries of someone like Coleridge never threw in doubt for him that the organic unity of harmonious metrical language was worth creating. Maybe, to bring it straight back to 2009, poets of my generation are deciding that experimental poets over the past fifty years have thrown out too much. Or, maybe there is no reason, I can just get tautological and say I like formal poetry because I like it and leave it at that. Tautological logic (a contradiction in terms) can be surprisingly useful, even therapeutic. Why? Because the universe is unfathomable, and poetry is part of the universe, and often few of us know why we write what we write. It's no accident that Jack Spicer thought aliens were dictating to him. At the center of each of us is a solid core of emptiness, which we act out of.
I mentioned Wordsworth's phrase harmonious metrical language. "Harmony" is associated with music, as is, of course, metrical language. Coleridge iterates, in his Biographia, that a man (or woman) without music in his/her soul can never be a poet. I think my addiction to metrical language or melopoeia (and it is, to an extent, an addiction, albeit a positive one) is in large measure the product of an imagination weaned on music and the metrical language of song lyrics. Metrical language, as manifested in song lyrics, is the most popular kind of poetry in the world, and has been for half a century. The nineteenth century saw the tremendous popular success of Byron and Tennyson. There is no twentieth century analogue to Byron and Tennyson, because the lack of metrical harmony in serious poetic language rendered it too difficult for mass consumption. It is no accident that the single most famous Modernist poem would probably be Eliot's Prufrock, a metrical composition. People want music that isn't merely Poundian/High Mod melopoeia; they want it to be surface-level and discernible and, sometimes, I agree with them. Using melopoeia, in its most disciplined forms, is not a mode of conservatism either; it is simply a way of constructing poetry which manifests and works on a maximum number of levels to achieve the maximum inherent memorability and potency. The more tools we may use to create poetry, the more liberal, and liberated, we are.