July 22nd, 2010 / 11:03 am
Craft Notes

Ars Poetica

Because I’m doing a presentation today on Horace’s “Ars Poetica” I’ve been reading various other versions of the poem about poetry. Horace, of course, being that dastardly villain who has filled countless heads with the tedious idea that literature should not just delight but also educate, who reached back to Aristotle and pulled those cumbersome ideas about unity, clarity, decorum, and morality up through the ages for people like Sidney, Pope, and Sartre to latch onto and pass along. Horace, who opens his version of the “Ars Poetica” (circa 30-10 BCE) with a preemptive attack on Surrealism:

Suppose a painter to a human head
Should join a horse’s neck, and wildly spread
The various plumage of the feathered kind
O’er limbs of different beasts, absurdly joined;
Or if he gave to view a beauteous maid
Above the waist with every charm arrayed,
Should a foul fish her lower parts infold,
Would you not laugh such pictures to behold?
Such is the book, that like a sick man’s dreams,
Varies all shapes, and mixes all extremes.

Horace, who liked his shapes and extremes clearly separated.

Anyway, I thought I’d share a few of the other Ars Poeticas I’ve come across. It’s an interesting form that allows for a wide range of approaches.

The purpose of poetry is to remind us
how difficult it is to remain just one person,
for our house is open, there are no keys in the doors,
and invisible guests come in and out at will.

— from “Ars Poetica?” by Czeslaw Milosz

The text is (should be) that uninhibited person,
non-site): anachronic subject, adrift

— from “Referencing Vast Leakage or temporary extrusion” by mIEKAL aND

My poems are usually brief
they resemble each other
they are anecdotal
they do not extend themselves
they make no great claims
they connect small things to other small things

–from “Donald Hall Would Hate Me” by Mairéad Byrne

we in Ars fancy having … es lonx+eX.liness, poetic landXl+-ubber,
mau#d or m#u;xsca# …
lonx+eX.liness, poetic landaf ree di-#;do. woodbury -ci- …
in the form of art in Ars
maybe poetic – > Dead Semen …

— from “What Is This Page?” by Bjørn Magnhildøen

The statue represents
Giordano Bruno, brought
to be burned in the public square
because of his offence against authority, which was to say
the Church. His crime was his belief
the universe does not revolve around
the human being: God is no
fixed point or central government
but rather is poured in waves, through
all things: all things
move. “If God is not the soul itself,
he is the soul OF THE SOUL of the world.” Such was
his heresy. The day they brought him forth to die

they feared he might incite the crowd (the man
was famous for his eloquence). And so his captors
placed upon his face
an iron mask
in which he could not speak.

That is how they burned him.
That is how he died,
without a word,
in front of everyone. And poetry–

(we’d all put down our forks by now, to listen to
the man in gray; he went on softly)– poetry

is what he thought, but did not say.

— from “What He Thought” by Heather McHugh

A poem should not mean
But be.

— from “Ars Poetica” by Archibald MacLeish


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