Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Conceptualism, or, The Prime Minister Has Been Kidnapped!

Facebook and its Internet has seen some discussion lately about conceptualism vis-a-vis poetry. Why argue? I get the rancour of the competing sides, rancour is how we assert. But why this particular battleground? Poetry that we read needs this?

After all these years, I'm still not good at thinking of the stuff that surrounds poetry, the criticism, the theory. It all seems so private. Yes, we share poetry, but poetry works like dreams: the mechanisms and interpretations are personal. Theory ingratiates the poem to a stricture of delay. We await the confirmation or denial of the critical boundary overlaid upon the poem. The poem itself, it passes by, bored with argumentative readership.

A word like conceptualism is a backwards word. You have to look at all the roots and stems, all the integrated bits to understand it. Then you have to add in all the interpretations that people have accrued on the term. It's pretty confusing. Okay, the world's confusing. But gee, do I need this portmanteau conceptualism. How does it help my day?

A forward word would be one like tree. In reading the word tree, we have a picture based on our experience. That picture can lead anywhere, but it goes forward into the world. If you say tree and I say tree, between us we can develop a wider view. I mean exactly of oak, apple, or whatever, but also figurative possibilities. We're all nuts for figurative possibilities.

With conceptualism, we start with the big part, concept, whatever that might be. Then we have to work out all the other syllables, Greek and Latin tracks back to some primordial group of meaning. Then we sorta hafta agree on what we mean with the word, today if everyone's agreeable. Which they are not. And how does one experience conceptualism, anyway?

What I am saying is, conceptualism doesn't write poems. It's just an adjunct blur to keep poetry away. It's a debate word, a word with sides. Even in my stupid young youth, I never thought poetry had sides. I'll bet you felt likewise, in your poetic youth. As an instructional league teenager who just wanted to write, and with poetry's wide or even non-existent boundaries giving hope, I saw no sides to poetry. I saw clouds resolving into pictures, words into meaning. Or stranger still, words resolving into mystery. That is, the secure meaning that I understood with the words didn't seem to work. This was agitating, quite, but after all: interesting. Words are round and inclusive.

Conceptualism, as a concept, as a shared debate, is an exclusion. I say this, and I don't even know what people are “getting at” with the word. Exclusion is built in, tho. The descriptor conceptualism serves to limit if not mislead. The thing, poetry, is a thing: poetry. Poetry shakes us, round and round. The gabble of critical consequence is a loss of that.

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