May a poem have its own metaphysics

Back in April of 2012, I wrote the following “response paper” for a class on form and theory of poetry.  I thought it might be worth sharing.

Don’t worry if you are unfamiliar with whom I reference or the texts I reference; the point is sharing the thoughts.

Montale says, “For many years poetry has been becoming more a means of knowledge than of representation.”  I’m not sure if what this leads me to think is quite what he was going for, but to me this means that a poem creates a world in itself rather than trying to mainly reference/represent something outside itself (our ‘reality,’ for example).

A poem is not meant to be true to the metaphysics of our lives—a poem finds its own metaphysics.

I am not trying to say that a poem is independent of history, of the material world, of other poems, etc., but rather that a poem has its own integrity, its own fullness and wholeness, and, thus, its own ‘knowledge.’

As Montale points out, “The language of a poet is not a historicized language or a report”: a report’s integrity depends on what it references while a poem’s integrity comes from the reader comprehending a ‘fullness’ on the page.  By ‘fullness,’ I mean accepting that the poem’s language—whatever the quantity and quality—establishes an environment in itself.

What is ‘truth’ for the poem’s speaker(s) lies in what is in the poem; the ‘knowledge’ that a poem conveys is contextual: the duty of the poem is not to make rules about the universe but to establish facts for itself, things that are true in the context of its lines.

Montale says, “The poet searches for some precise truth, not for a general truth.”  For me, this means that a poem should not be taken to speak an absolute truth (and, honestly, absolute truths may not exist [I think of myself as an epistemological contextualist]).

When Montale says, “[The poet] wants a truth of the poet-subject which does not deny the truth of the empirical man-subject,” I ask, why?  It sounds to me like this is saying that the ‘truth’ in the poem should not contradict the ‘truth’ we experience in our lives, and if this is what Montale means, I must disagree.

I see no reason to actively limit the poem’s ‘truth’ (actively by “wanting” to do so, thus doing so).  But I will say, though, that the poem’s ‘truth’ is indeed passively limited (rather than actively—it just plain is limited) by the poet’s empirical knowledge, as the poet’s materials for the poem only come from what the poet knows/what ideas a poet has (I am an idea empiricist).

I also find this statement (of Montale) somewhat vague: “[the poet] needs a truth which talks of that which unites man to other men, without denying all that separates man and makes him unique.”  Is he saying the poet needs to uphold a truth that is true for all people but also leaves room for people to be individual?  This sounds like an attempt toward a “general truth” to me, which seems to contradict his idea that “The poet searches for some precise truth, not for a general truth.”

Perhaps “a truth” that “unites man to other men” is “precise” to Montale, but it definitely seems generalizing to me: such a “truth” would depend on a generalizing premise about humanity.

I am also put off by the human-centric and male-centric nature of his language and expectations.  I do not see any reason for poetry to be actively burdened/limited to generalizing about humanity or individuality.

May the poem be its own species living in its own metaphysics; may whatever ecosphere that overlaps human and poem be hospitable for both parties.

I realize my arguments here may rub up against some ideas some may cherish about poetry; some may say poetry is inherently a human utterance/response of living as a human.

For a human poet, that may be so, but I don’t think the subject matter need be explicitly limited by human issues; yes, because I am a human who is writing, my humanity affects what I can and cannot do, however much I may push against it.  But, just because human writing has such limitation does not mean the limitation must be inherent in poetry itself.

I’d say whatever limitations there are to poetry come from whatever limitations there are in the language used for the poetry.  And I see no reason to privilege human language as the specific limiting factor.

Open the possibilities….

Do you think poetry can be written by nonhumans?  Why/why not?