Saturday, July 30, 2005 +

Créteil and French Poetry

From Jacques Barzun, “Some Notes on Créteil and French Poetry,” New Directions, v9, 1946.

If it is conceded that the changing sensibility of the poet does perpetually reshape the form and technique of poetry, and even the conception of what poetry is for, then the radical “proposition” embodied by [H. M.] Barzun in L’Orphéide appears both thoroughgoing and, by now, intelligible. We have got used to many things done upon the body of language since 1914; but at that time the principle of simultaneity in poetry necessarily seemed cataclysmic. For it brought into question again the basis of all poetic techniques since Lessing’s Laokoon. The western world had agreed that poetry was to be read the way it was written—one word after another. All discussions of “technique” dealt with “lines.” “This is a good line; that is a bad line.” A poet is known by his lines, in much the same way that a volume of poems is known by the irregular aspect of the right-hand margin. It is even believed by the innocent that Homer was a writer and that the Greek dramas originally sounded very much like the girls’ school commencements which they now adorn.

But if the scribe tradition is rejected and instead of lines and books the poet should begin with sounds and sensations, he would logically arrive at the view that his page was simply a convenient portion of space in which to organize the symbols for what he hears. Space relations would indicate time relations as well—would create a larger syntax for his use—and he might them give himself and others the feeling that he was composing a world in motion instead of merely “extending remarks” like a Congressman.

See From the Barzun File.