Archive for December, 2007

Fouts’s Theory of Poetry

Adynata or My Name is Raincheck

The main problem with poetry is also the thing that makes poetry possible; poetry doesn’t work. There are no words to describe the human condition, at least no accurate words. If there were, I’m not sure there would be a need for poetry, or religion, philosophy, consumer culture, maybe even sex. Nearly every human thought or action is an attempt at transcendence. Even such non-transcendent activities as eating or breathing are often turned, in the human mind, into vehicles for transcendence (consider eating disorders and breath counting meditation). The idea that humans are mammals bent on transcendence has been best articulated (for my money) by Kenneth Burke in his work, A Rhetoric of Motives. He says:

“So, to say that man is a symbol-using animal is by the same token to say that he is a ‘transcending animal.’ Thus, there is in language itself a motive force calling man to transcend the ‘state of nature’… And in this sense, we can recognize even the cult of commodities…as a mode of transcendence.” (192)

The reason for this is simple and profound: we are separate. We are separate and, more importantly, we are aware of the separation and we would like to be less separate.
We may choose to believe that we will all be together in heaven, or that we are all in touch with the collective unconscious, or that we will all be happy if we drink Zima. Burke goes on to discuss the cult of commodities as an “inferior” mode of transcendence (194), but I would argue that they are all inferior in the sense that they all fail to achieve transcendence over our separateness.

Which brings us quickly back to our problem. Poetry doesn’t work. But the reason why poetry doesn’t work (our awareness of our separate nature) is also the reason why we need poetry. Poetry is a stretching of language. Poetry is the use of language in a fashion that comes as close as possible to transcending the limitations inherent in linguistic communication.

Poetry tries to say more than mere language can say. It is for this reason that other elements come into play when discussing poetry. The concept of silence on the page, the idea of white space, the experience of the shape of a poem, like the experience of the shape of a woman or a Zima bottle, are all a result of the human desire to transcend our separateness.

I would like to propose a hypothesis about the first work of poetry ever created. We can never tell precisely when this occurred or in what form. But let us say that the event took place between two-million and fifty-thousand years ago, on the savannas of Africa where meat was plentiful and proto-human hominids could get enough protein to develop the brains that would make them Homo-Sapiens. Once the physiological changes necessary for language took place, language developed as a way to spread technological knowledge and coordinate with members of the family/tribe and it suited this need so well, that Homo-Sapiens became the dominant species on the planet.

However, the chemical change that made language possible also had a down side; the change gave us the ability to see beauty. By “see” I mean that we could (and still can) impose beauty on what would otherwise be a perfectly innocent collection of atoms. Some might argue that we do not see or impose beauty but that we recognize beauty. Beauty is entirely subjective, so this is not a valid argument.

For an example, I would like to describe a hypothetical example of the first person to ever experience adynata. Let us call him Og. As he walks out of the family cave one morning and the view of the sun rising behind some clouds moves him in a way that he has never experienced before. He thinks that something wonderful has occurred to the sun and the clouds so he runs back in the cave and gets his whole family up to show them what has happened. Og’s family, tired and cranky from being woken early, tell him that nothing has changed. the sun and the clouds look just as they always have. They return to the cave in order to get an extra half-hour’s sleep before the big mastodon hunt that day. Og, however, stands there for a long time looking at the sun and the clouds and trying to figure out what is going on. After a while, the feeling goes away and the sun is just a sun again.

Still, he can’t shake that feeling that they were somehow different for a time. Whenever he tries to tell someone about his experience, they ask him to describe the change. In what way were the sun and the clouds different? Og is skilled at using this new thing called language, but he can’t think of words to describe how the sun looked. He tries to do the best he can.

This is what poetry is for me. It is the best attempt I can make with language to communicate the way I see the world to other people. This is impossible to do. Or rather, it is impossible to completely communicate these non verbal experiences. But we can try. Quality poetry, then, is the result of an ernest attempt to stretch language into a shape it is not designed to take. We do this while at the same time acknowledging that we will only partially succeed. The degree to which we do succeed, however, is a revelation that brings us all a tiny step closer to overcoming the gulf of separation that surrounds each one of us.


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Raking Leaves Revised

I did a nice revision to the end of this poem. I really should just save it to send out for publication, but what the hell. nobody reads this blog anyway. enjoy.

Raking Leaves
        For Carrie Hilliker, killed 11/09/2007
song in my head.
        won’t quit as I work
my way slowly across
        the yard.

These leaves are the color
        of the Earth.
Brown and red like the
        hem of your dress.

All summer long I sat
        beneath this canopy
and drank spring wine
        with the pretty girls.

But now, the tenth of November
        it has fallen
to me to rake up
        these broken pieces

The rake. The crunch of leaves
        the song in my head.
Late afternoon. I’ve raked them
        into a cairn.

I am sifting through these pieces
        and looking for what?
The curve of your waist?
        the hem of your dress?

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The “online dating” series are emails and dating profiles that I come across that I like to put into a poetic form by changing the line breaks. They are mostly supposed to be funny.

Online Dating IV

Who Knows What

Hot and wild girl
looking for fun with a cute
younger stud.

If that sounds like you, then
lets talk and who knows
what. Also looking

for bi guys for fun and threesomes.
Love to watch a cute bi guy play
with another man.

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Taking Damage

Matthew Fouts

Taking Damage

The mind. The body.
a sad song is
a lesion on your brain
that will never heal.

Every girl that turns
you down,
every dance you sit alone,
every time you spin,
every time you fall,

you take damage.

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Matthew Fouts

Taking My Life in Your Hands

I guess I should have known
when she met me for coffee
in old baggy clothes,
that she profoundly didn’t give

a shit. I guess I’m just a cock
eyed optimist. That’s not true.
The truth: she sized me up
and saw me as a weight.

I fell in love with the glow
of her shiny black hair
and the carefree sound
of her voice. The soup

is hot; the soup is cold.
I don’t think we’re in
the same place. It’s not about
. Yeah. The truth:

If you don’t fuck someone
you are spun to the outer reaches,
and you may not come back.

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