Maybe I am a stupidhead* but I believe that narrative is vital to poetry. Furthermore, novels can be lushly instructive in the creation thereof. Not just the creation, that sounds crassly utilitarian, but in the understanding and the undertaking of a poetic course.
We regard narrative as a straight line to something. Yeah well, that’s gotta be wrong. We don’t got any straight lines! Narrative is a process of time on subject. Time is a fluttery concept of many speeds and directions. The narrative of straight line to resolution is a phony brick in the essential wall between us and all that is happening. Novels go floppy when they trump logic with crowning determination. You know, the sapient resolutions and propped up completions.
The simple equations of mystery novels, for instance, work well enough: a crime, an investigation, a resolution, and somehow you’re supposed to care about the protagonist. That simplification provides a reward of process, but let’s don’t overarch the actualities with these playthings.
So I have finished The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. It runs to 700 nicely paced pages. To maintain a readable pace for such length represents an achievement. The narrative, however, reaches comedic levels of control. Rand stacks the deck against any misprision that real life may attempt.
Howard Roark, the Symbol of Outward, is the hero in a nice old fashion way. He is not tremendously likeable, but he is full-scale against the forces of evil that wish to quash the individual man. He is unbearably insulated against qualms, fears, moral doubt, or anything. Everyone else in the book is a schemer. Roark is Promethean.
The other three main characters contrive in their ways to bash Roark into submission. One of these was a classmate at architectural school, who accepts Roark’s design help but otherwise spends his time pulling the carpet from under Roark’s feet. This guy, Peter Keating, is the Golden Boy of architecture until Roark bests him.
Dominique Francon provides that tasteful note of sadomasochism that we all love. She is of such dazzling beauty, blah blah blah, but heartless, blah blah blah. Roark rapes her in a graphic scene. Yes, she wanted it. This is how they became lovers. She immediately marries Keating—remember: Sade and Masoch together in one icy hot babe—but continues assignations with Roark. The oozing dramatic normalcy of all this is a study in itself.
This brings us to the the third main Roark thwarter, Gail Wynand. He’s a Hearstlike newspaper overlord, a sadistic billionaire who crushes people like flies. He essentially buys Dominique from Keating, and she goes along with it. All this to tweak Roark. Everyone tweaks Roark, as if they could.He is so much beyond such pettiness.
Narrative’s well-etched lines leave more doubts then they can possibly overwhelm. Rand’s directive asserts this dismally wonderful Roark as perfect or prefect Olympian. Look out, y’all.
Keating’s architectural empire collapses, as does Wynand’s newspaper one. Francon’s sadism becomes true love, Olympian brand. And Roark moseys along as the true Gilgamesh equal to the challenge. Yes, we love the resolution in stories.
Poetry, however, lives in the flutter of words. Words are not ideas, they are transitive machines, firm in eager change. The narrative of novels steeps in a liquor of vital assertion, facts as triumph.
Poetry cannot determine the specific spasm of intent. It cannot. Meaning is a hoary rascal, ready to trick us. Poetry gambles (or gambols) on that very prevarication. That is, your clues, dear Poem Writer, are readily shifted to a different arc. No matter what you do. The narrative of poetry relies on an active and inconsequent breath. Novels, in contradistinction, demand consequence.
The Fountainhead shows the effort of trying to impose thoughts on material. Rand uses puppets and gestures to instigate the ruction she insists on. Poetry cannot do that. Poetry cannot push the line so straightly. Poetry is the words of alleviation, after so much determined import. Poetry supports the linear agitation of our lives.
And so much blah blah blah. But really, think of the narrative tools that poetry has given us. Disjunction is not disharmony, it is keenly felt interruption. Late in The Fountainhead, lengthy speeches start appearing. Rand forcefeeds these not so bon mots into the mouths of the characters. Ah Ayn, narrative is not a straight line conviction, it is uneven breath, missteps, and suddenly. Think of the divine words printed on Hannah Weiner’s forehead. Disturbance is norm.
Novels know it is a subject. That gravitational pull determines a logic and path. Poetry is words, first of all. The words spark across gaps. Novels sheer to theorized lines and fill restriction. This is instructive, Poets. Get on with the job.
* Proud Stupidhead of the Precursorian Age.