Weekends are for sextains?

Or formal verse, at any rate. Button up to see what needs to break out.

I have no idea where the phrase “at any rate” comes from, but it is one of the musical aspects of language that annoys the pedants: a phrase unnecessary if one “writes well”.

But the music matters. I was listening to a Penteract podcast episode with Ian McMillan (of The Verb). They were discussing the beauty of dialects. The perception of what is appropriate to discuss in a dialect, and what is not. That same classist rot is in the Norwegian language, too, I think. And here extends so far as to embrace English as a kind of dialect for the elite. The academics.

Literary writing isn’t part of the academic system here. But it still seems ironic that I can’t apply for most government grants because I write in English rather than Norwegian, while the majority of the visual art projects that are awarded grants have English titles.

The government wants to protect the status of a national “culture” by prescribing a standard language. For literature (and for stage). But not for use in the overall arts community. It is interesting. I keep thinking if that means that they see literature and drama as elements of the culture rather than a commentary or response to the culture?

Or I may be overthinking this. Restrictions on languages aren’t remotely new. But neither is it remotely appropriate in terms of “art”. Part of me thinks it turns all literature into nationalist propaganda. And another part of me thinks I am sucking on sour grapes.

At any rate, my dwelling on it is entirely unproductive. I get wound up.

A man I admire wrote yesterday that Good Friday was actually the best day to begin new resolutions, to make fresh starts.

I am lifting my bicycle pedal up with the top of my foot, to the apex of the arc. And I move my foot around, up and over, and I step down on the pedal. I stand up to push with the whole weight of my body, hoping to get enough momentum to make the forward movement easy.

I could make a poetry video. And not give a damn who “gets it”. Who pays for it. But I can’t seem to find the path from the idea of the metaphor to the actual, physical implementation of real-world objects. I can’t translate the poeticized, empirical knowledge back into the real world.

I am wound up. But bound.

I think this inertia is one reason I am drawn toward formal verse when I feel hopeless. Formal verse is somewhat effortless. The poeticized knowledge is guaranteed to translate into something acceptable on some level. There is a sense of sureness in a slavish execution.

I had a graduate student years ago who turned in a draft all too light on research, in which she postulated that a particularly adventurous painter would have (not) accomplished his modernist work had his teachers been prescriptive in terms of his art training. Ah, but the truth is: they were. They were naturalists. His training had been as rigid as a tongue with no familiarity with curse words.

I figure part of the draw of the rigid framework is to discover what really needs to escape from it. Otherwise, we are simply working within the contemporary frameworks we think of as “new”, but are actually familiar enough to give us that sureness of execution. We want the pedigree. It has a purpose, too, beyond the name-dropping.

But maybe the tighter the restrictions, the more meaning can be brought into view? In this same podcast this morning, Anthony Etherin talked about only having written sestinas that were also anagrams, explaining that he didn’t think he would write a good sestina without even more demanding constraints.

There is something fascinating about this idea. I can’t help but think that the attention to conscious constraints is what allows us to bypass our linguistic and cultural, unconscious constraints.

Right now, I am going to pour another cup of tea and write a sestina.

One Reply to “Weekends are for sextains?”

  1. I don’t know exactly what to say about being admired by someone I think of as my mentor.

    In our dim and distant past, you and I talked about the form of poetry, and I remember saying I didn’t much care about form as long as the words were in the order I needed them to be in (or something to that effect). To this day I still can’t work out if that’s because I’m not clever enough to indulge in form, or because I really only want to write down words in the shape I feel comfortable with.

    I hope you enjoyed your tea, and your sestina turned out just as you wanted it to.