No idea

In old movies, a cut to pounding waves means Sex. I've been looking through Next Generation poetry to see what images represent Ideas. "Show not Tell" seems the order of the day. Emotion-related concepts like (e.g.) "Longing" can be depicted by a stare, and even some rather abstract notions can be illustrated by Escher. But anyone who's played party games like Pictionary or Rapidough will appreciate that some concepts are harder than others to depict, which is why a vocabulary has been developed over millennia to discuss Ideas.

Of Stand magazine in about 1997, Andrew Duncan wrote "A phobia about ideas leads to unnatural numbers of Things held to embody virtue, a kind of gift shop at the folk museum poetry". Carlos Williams said "No Ideas but in Things" and wheeled on his Red Wheelbarrow. Since then the stage becomes crowded with props and teaching aids. "Things" have become imbued with significance, overloaded with inexpressible meaning - inexpressible because the poet has censored naked Ideas.

In the Eastern Block censorship encouraged some forms of creativity - allegory, etc - though it also led to obscurity. It's been said of avant-garde that it's written as if sense were censored. In NextGen poetry there's seeming censorship against the academic, the abstract, which might in turn account for the limited range of genres. It's mostly anecdotal in nature, its diction educated but rarely intellectual. It's strange that though the poets "explore issues" like Race, Beauty, etc, they shy away from any connection with experts in Sociology, Aesthetics, etc, prefering to present an incident at a bus-stop or the Tate's canteen.

You might object that poetry's not supposed to be sociology or philosophy. I'd reply by saying that there's no reason why poetry shouldn't call upon the expertise of those in other fields. By not doing so it risks marginalising itself even more. I think the rule of thumb should be to show what can be shown, and tell the rest, rather than restricting what you write about to what can be shown. Poetry's not philosophy, but equally it's not Pictionary either.


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Updated March 2005
Tim Love