Monday, September 10, 2007

Poetry and Depth

It’s so hard to inject a poem with depth without sounding pretentious. Perhaps paddling in the shallows is almost preferable because when such a poem fails, it doesn’t fail so spectacularly. On the other hand, I don’t want to bore even myself.

Of course, it's easy to make a poem seem deep and complex, but there's got to be substance behind that seeming.


Harry said...

And by 'depth' you mean... ?

That's a sort-of serious question; I don't have any objection to 'deep' as a critical term, and I assume I know what you mean by it, I just wonder how you'd go about explaining it to someone. Or how I'd go about explaining it, for that matter.

Rob said...

Good question, Harry.

Interesting that some phrases that assign depth to a poem like 'multi-layered' or 'intelligent wit' or 'complex' are usually positive in their application. But 'ponderous' or 'heavy' or (even more so) 'portentous' usually carry negative connotations.

That's not a full answer to your question, as I'm feeling tired (and I'll try and get back to it tomorrow), but it might be a part-answer.

SarahJane said...

Just make sure no one understands it but you. It will have "hidden depth."

Rob said...

Sarah - yes, that reminds me of the scene in 'About a Boy' when Will's (Hugh Grant's) sister says, "I always thought you had hidden depths," and Will replies, "No, you always got that wrong. I really am this shallow!"

Harry - I guess one could also ask "How deep does a poem have to dig to become 'deep'?" Maybe it comes down to authenticity, that a good poem often surprises even its writer by the time it's finished. The process has resulted in greater depth.

But if it's all just complex doodling without any surprises behind the complexity, the poem only has the appearance of depth.

RHE said...

More to the point, you will always lose if you try to "inject" your poem with seriousness. Seriousness in the sense you mean--somewhere between "significant" and "portentous"--comes with the inspiration. It isn't an additive.

Best to take what the Muse offers. If you write well, that's serious enough to satisfy anyone; and sometimes what's on offer will be "important." And sometimes not. I can think of poems by Yeats and Auden and Frost and Larkin where it would be hard to decide just how "serious" the poems were. But they're great, and that's plenty good enough.

Rob said...

I agree with your comments on Yeats, Auden etc completely, Richard. I don't think poems have to be "serious" to be good poems.

I sort of agree with your comment that depth can't be injected. But while I know inspiration can strike, as if from nowhere, other times poems need to be worked at before they begin to work.

I think there's often a fine line between the significant and the portentous and it's all to easy to step onto the wrong side.