Monday, December 31, 2007


In William Jay Smith's Poems, 1947-57 (Little Brown, 1957) there are three satirical epigrams. One of them, called "'Poet,'" mocks typographical avant-gardism not generally, as it might seem, but specifically. A young Filipino writer by the name of Jose Garcia Villa once published a book of poems in which commas were inserted between words. Smith repeats the effect to ridicule it, placing the odd, halting device in a regularly metered and rhymed quatrain. Nothing really "remarkable" about this "effect," Smith contends. Thus:



Funny, yes. But I want to ask: why is it said that a poet "places" a comma between words - placing implying force, artificiality, conscious construction - while the traditional quatrain itself doesn't entail placement. Aren't they both placings? They achieve effects, one disruptive of flow and the other sustaining it.

Long live consciousness on both sides of this argument. Forms are no more or less natural. Up with smooth satire! Up with jitters and hiccoughs! Make it (all of it, so much as is possible) n-n-n-n-ew-ew-ew,(eep,oop). I want my art to make me at least a little jittery. I want my art to make me swallow the air (the air we breathe = the forgotten-about, the natural) the wrong way.

at right, Jose Garcia Villa