Friday, March 20, 2009

John Haynes and Creative Writing

John Haynes and Nigel McLoughlin are among the many teachers I *met* through Facebook. They teach students in creative writing. John's website currently features brief introductions to topics of interest to poets. Here is an excerpt from his introduction to the topic of poetic language. In this introduction, Haynes refers to the Russian linguist and literary critic Roman Jakobson:
. . . The poetic function is when the focus of attention is on the 'message' (i.e. the language) itself. For this reason poetic language is sometimes called 'reflexive'. This doesn't mean that in poems we don't also take account of other factors such as emotion and content.

Jakobson points out that the poetic function occurs in all areas of life not just in poems. 'Heinz meanz beanz', 'Go to work on an egg', 'No pain no gain', 'credit crunch' and so on are all examples.

A poem is a kind of text in which language itself is the defining feature. On this line of thinking all the poetic 'devices' we come across are seen as ways of turning our attention to the text as text. So poetry is not just understanding what the writer is talking about and how they feeling about it, but about language as such.
Jakobson's view tends to present poetic language as a sort of 'play', where we enjoy and celebrate the words in our mouths, as it were. Obviously there are more serious things here, such as having a sense of what human communication is, how language and thought intermesh.
Read the whole thing at John's website.

In addition to his comments on creative writing, Mr. Haynes has generously posted engaging commentary on poems at his Reading Blog. Here is an excerpt from the beginning of his commentary on W.B. Yeats' poem "When You Are Old":
A medieval poem, a translation with variation from a time when courtly romantic love was the mode. As in much of such poetry the poet/lover expresses a platonic sort of love which is not returned by the beloved. Also the troubadour poet would not really expect to be loved in return, partly because the beloved was of a far higher social status than himself.
(John's Reading Blog contains the full text of Yeats' poem.)
Read the full essay at John's reading blog. Enjoy!

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