Saturday, November 18, 2006

'Telling' in Lyric Poetry

I’m much enjoying the essays in the After Confession book I mentioned a few posts ago as one of my three recent purchases. I’ve just finished Sydney Lea’s piece.

Lea laments the “show, don’t tell” advice. Sometimes telling is necessary, but it works only if the point of view is earned by the poem as a whole, not simply because the writer, or the “I” of the poem, makes an assertion. Lea carries out a fascinating examination on several of Keats’ best known poems and shows how Keats managed to show, tell, and justify his rhetoric every time.

Lea concludes;

Vocal authority, however accomplished, is essential. Pronouns are not people. If, having composed a draft of a lyric, we ask ourselves Who says so? we must have a more compelling answer than the naked ‘I.’


C. E. Chaffin said...

I'm glad he said that. So true. The lack of any moral or artistic authority in contemporary poetry makes it uniquely dangerous to "tell." I mean, why should you know better than I?

nmj said...

Hello Rob, I've come to you via apprentice, I like your poems. I agree that *telling* is sometimes necessary, though I am speaking from the fiction end of things - I am not a poet. If the voice is polished and strong enough, and demands that you listen, you can get away with telling.