Saturday, January 05, 2008

Changed Your Mind?

John Horgan this week posted his answer to's The Question for 2008: "WHAT HAVE YOU CHANGED YOUR MIND ABOUT? WHY?"

Interestingly, The Question is prefaced with:

"When thinking changes your mind, that's philosophy.
When God changes your mind, that's faith.
When facts change your mind, that's science."

I don't 100% agree with this - there are facts outside the realm of science, after all - but it's close enough for the set up of an interesting question.

Like most dabblers*, I change my mind a lot as I acquire more information about an area of interest. Over the years, some of my more surprising evidence-based mind changes have involved men's gymnastics, the musical Cabaret, Bill Clinton, and the color yellow. As far as the literary arts go, here's one I've been changing my mind on, with some decisions made this year:

In the debate on "Spoken Word" versus "poetry", Diane Lockward recently commented (essentially) that works which entertain the ear but don't work on the page are missing an element necessary to define them as poetry. She's right, and here's the learning I've acquired this year. There are three buckets in this debate: Poems which are successful on the page and to the year, poems which are less successful in one or the other of page and ear but which essential contain the craft elements of both, and entertainments which are called poems but are more performance arts that lack elements of poetic craft.

Bucket 3's pretty easy to define: Think Def Poetry Jam, which is 75% entertainments. The other buckets are subjective, but I bet you can name a few poets for each one right off the top of your head. You can read the list of performers at the 2006 Dodge Festival and populate all three buckets quite easily.

Where I've changed my mind is in the acceptance of bucket 3. It's fine for me to internally note that what I'm hearing or reading is not poetry, but it's not necessary for me to set up flares around it and discredit it for anyone else. In fact, if I can use an entertainment to lure someone a step closer to the recognition of poetic craft, then it's served a purpose valuable to poetry, for which God bless it. It's like using the singsongy verse of early childhood to learn a vocabulary and appreciation for poems. Or like using the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to get a child to ask "Who was the real Donatello?" Maybe that last bit's a stretch.

Anyway, take a look at the (more meaningful) answers at Edge. It's dominated by science-related posts (which is very interesting for me, of course), but I trust there's something for everyone there. I'm disturbed at the infuriating misquote of Emerson a little way down the page, which was used by the Toronto Star to discuss The Question, but I suppose that's a personal problem.

Quick aside: Five days and 12 signatures into the new year, and I haven't written "'07" yet! Go, me! And Happy New Year again!

* - a dabbler in this sense is someone who discovers a topic and becomes progressively more immersed until his or her opinions become better informed, but who doesn't hold back those opinions in the interim. Think of an amateur Asimov.

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