Spectrum of Criticism: Brooker v. Heaney

August 31, 2010

Fresh out of class, I wish we didn’t have to leave just as the discussion was getting good.  The vertical line of the spectrum that we created on the board posed a dichotomy that was widely agreed to be “problematic”: poetry existing for the sake of art, beauty, and expression  Vs.  poetry functioning as a factual necessity of life.

Two critics that we didn’t really have a chance to compare directly, Jewel Spears Brooker and Seamus Heaney, both attack this dichotomy directly.

Brooker asserts that there was validity in just attempting to capture experience in words as she asks “Can we look at September 11 in terms of aesthetics alone?”  Brooker offers the possibility that some experiences just wont fit into the words we try to use, but that we, as poets, are still able to try.

Heaney poses poetry not as a simple means of expression, but  as an intrinsic necessity – that poetry satisfies a mysterious vacuum in the world of expression and communication.  He cites Havel: “Poetry is a state of mind, not a state of world.”  This quote pulls another binary argument onto our discussion: the natural process of language  Vs.  true representation of the world. Poetry is fueled by obligation, and even in its flawed nature, it is fundamental in human communication.

Both Brooker and Heaney bend the two ends of our art-or-necessity-axis until they are aligned.  Poetry is the attempt to capture indescribable experience in fixed words, but is it impossible to try and fully succeed, or it is impossible to try and fail?

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