Poetry News

'writings writers write about writing have been curiously misread'

By Harriet Staff


If you're ever wondering what the difference might be between a manifesto and poetics, look no further than "Poetics and the manifesto: On Pierre Joris and Adrian Clarke" at Jacket2. Robert Sheppard investigates the matter for us and finds this distinction:

Battling the impossibility of being their own readers, writers are drawn to fuzzy logic when it comes to thinking and externalizing their thinking about the purpose, activity, outcomes, and future of writing that results in text that can be unstable in a variety of ways, and is sometimes difficult to read. However, there is enough commonality among these writings to group them as members of a discourse, one called ‘poetics,’ and a prospective study of poetics is most revealingly conducted using examples that orient themselves in form, towards form, and that reveal themselves as hybrid and playful, fragmented or highly formal.[1]

I want to draw a distinction between poetics and manifestos, to crystallize the nature of each. Manifestos may contain poetics, but poetics itself is a more mercurial discourse: speculative, conjectural, and provocative, suggestive of formal possibilities for the art practice concerned. Mary Ann Caws helps to clarify this discrimination: “As if defining a moment of crisis, the manifesto generally proclaims what it wants to oppose, to leave, to defend, to change. Its oppositional tone is constructed of againstness.”[2] This ‘tone’ is absent from poetics, where, as Stephen Romer reminds us, “we find … a profound reserve before the fact of poetry, and a refusal to be dogmatic.”[3] There may be, of course, provocation in its exhortations; poetics provokes artistic innovation or progression.

Sheppard goes on to further fine tune, writing: "Misreading poetics as a unified or simple discourse (as underdeveloped literary criticism, for example) is to miscomprehend the complexity and doubleness of the discourse, its incompleteness, its mercurial nature, its often teasing relationship to the originating writer’s (or writers’) literary productions." And what follows is a look at Pierre Joris’s “Notes towards a Nomadic Poetics.” Definitely worth a deep read, so go now!

Originally Published: August 27th, 2014