Tuesday, June 12, 2007

On Using Modifiers in Poetry

kellylynn, in PFFA, asks:
Ok, in light of critiques I have received, threads I have read and general observations on modern poetry, I would like to know why good poetry has to be sparse [sic]. Why is the use of relevant, thoughtful modifiers that sharpen an image or clarify a thought a bad thing if they are not turning a poem into a prose piece? I am probably dense, but isn't there a place for rich language usage if it doesn't go overboard?

The responses are here. My comment tries to make the point that modifiers are not exactly the same as adjectives and adverbs, that modifiers are a bigger concept and open up more questions for a poet to consider than the narrow one of overmodification in writing poetry.

5 comments:

James said...

Very good point you had there.

Generally, what do you think of modifiers? Not in adjectives and adverbs, but adverbial prepositional phrases? When are they good and when are they bad? (Generally.)

Also, generally, would you go for participial phrases or adjectives? Any specific reason or only a personal bias?

I'm sorry for not being able to direct my question into less wide territories.

Best,
James

Jee Leong Koh said...

James, as you may suspect, there is no general answer to your question. The opening sentence of "Prufrock" deploys lots of prepositional and participial phrases in order to imitate the long, withdrawing muttering of the streets, to lead the reader to the overwhelming question that is never asked. The effects of most poetic devices (including syntax) can be broadly divided into two categories: imitative or ironic. The former is a result of matching form and content, the latter a result of contrasting them.

Jee Leong Koh said...

And of course you are very welcome to send me cash for "Payday Loans." Make them American dollars.

James said...

Yes, that was kind of the answer I expected. Nothing's easy in poetry, is it? Just yesterday I got a response on my poems that made me go "what?". The reviewer had read two poems mine (perhaps more), and said this (http://thepoetryreviews.blogspot.com/2007_03_01_archive.html) was better than this (http://thepoetryreviews.blogspot.com/2007/06/all-day-men-that-fails-to-bring-coyotes.html.)
It confuses me, how the first could be better. In all the months I've "felt" I've evolved, have I gone backwards, begun with a writing that's no longer poetry? Before I used sound over syntax; now I do the reverse. Is that wrong?

This goes farther off topic than I'd expected. Sorry. Anyway: When you divide them into two catagories, you immediately rule out any other "catagory". Do you mean there are not other ways than imitative and / or ironic to use?

Cash it will be, then. I'll send it someday soon.

Jee Leong Koh said...

Hi James,
the answer I have in mind is book-length, and so I will spare you it at the moment. Would love to look at those two poems of yours but don't have enough time to do them any justice, so I'll have to find another time.