In Professor Stefano Colangelo’s lecture on “Voice and Verse: At the Origins of Contemporary Poetry,” he first encouraged the audience to make questions about poetry and about the origins in and of poetry, and then took a practical turn and attempted to answer those questions.
In the first section, the asking questions part, Professor Colangelo took the audience through a series of quotes from poets throughout history. These poets included a variety of famous voices, including Benedetto Croce and Gaston Bachelard. Hearing words from famous poets of the past eluded to the feeling of a historical aspect to poetry, since people have been composing poetry and commenting on poetry since the beginning of time. However, the actual content of the quotes presented by both Benedetto Croce and Gaston Bachelard contradict any sort of history within poetry.
Croce claims that art is “but a pure intuition…., the primordial form of knowledge” (Croce). He suggests that intuition and expression are the essence of art, and thus there is no historical aspect to it. Similarly, Bachelard also suggest that poetry is timeless. He states that “poetry rejects all preambles, general principles, methods, and proofs” (Bachelard), suggesting that poetry stands on its own, without any regulations or history. As with Croce, Bachelard suggests that poetry condenses all thoughts, topics, and concepts in a single moment. Poetry has no origins, but is rather a general state of mind, with no past or future, but rather occupying a single moment.
It is an interesting claim to state that something has no origins. Thus far in the semester, all lectures and discussions have stressed the ubiquitous presence of origins. Nothing can come from nowhere, but rather everything has to come from something. No person, no object, no idea comes out of thin air. Everyone comes from a certain background with family values and social dynamics, among other things. Each object in this world was made from something or made at some point in time and has since survived past that moment of origin. Every idea is shaped by the ideas of others, the environment, and other influential conditions.
How then, can anyone claim that poetry has no origins? Poets have existed throughout history, creating poetry with evolving ideas, themes, and concepts. Poetry exists all over the world and all throughout time, so how can it be condensed into a single moment? Paul Celan states that “composing verse relates not so much to time, as to universal time” (Celan), but how? How can all the centuries worth of poetry exist in a universal time, when it has been composed over changing times and changing ways?
These questions are hard for me to reconcile. Yes, maybe poetry is all connected in some way and each poem builds off of the previous and together all poems form a unified entity, but the field of poetry nonetheless has a beginning. Poetry had to have started somewhere, just as with everything else in this world. It thus seems unrealistic for poets to claim that poetry exists in a universal time, having no origins and being completely timeless and completely condensed in a single moment.
It is difficult to imagine or try to understand something as having no origins or history, especially a practice as old as history. I thus wonder how these poets believe and convey such claims. It also makes me wonder, however, if maybe somehow these claims are true or possible. Does is make sense to understand poetry as a single condensed moment? Is it fair to disregard a history of poetry in such a way? If all poetry exists in a single moment, how is it possible to add to that moment without moving away from that moment?