Tuesday, 7/28/20 at 11:15 PM
I'm interested in Robert Hass's interest in the Georgic as a poetic form.

1.   We don’t have a useful vocabulary for poems of information and instruction or the way the formal imagination might work in them, partially because, beginning with the romantics, poets came to feel that poetry had different work to do from the work of the expository, idea-synthesizing intelligence, and they stopped writing didactic or instructive poems. […]

4.   They were translated by John Dryden at the end of the seventeenth century—his versions are still very readable, if you have a taste for their sound—and for a period there was a vogue in English for a poem of instruction and information. It corresponded roughly with the rise of the new science and an appetite for practical knowledge. Readers, at least some readers, seemed to feel that it was more pleasant—it was the age of the rhymed couplet—to get one’s information from poetry than prose. […]

6.   When I was first compiling these notes for the forms class, it didn’t occur to me to include the georgic because it seemed both out of the way and extinct. Three things made the form suddenly interesting to think about. One was the emergence of an environmental poetry and efforts toward a critical ecopoetics, reflected in Janet Lembke’s sense of the contemporaneity of the poem. Another was the emergence of documentary poetics. And another was the work of my Berkeley colleague Kevis Goodman, a scholar of eighteenth century poetry, who has had interesting things to say about the genre and why it disappeared in her book, Georgic Modernity and British Romanticism.

Her basic argument is that when the romantics redefined the nature of poetry by claiming that it was not a pretty and musical way of dressing up knowledge, but itself a form of knowledge, it made poetry seem the opposite of practical instruction, and the georgic disappeared, or rather the role of information and practical instruction in poetry went underground.

9.   There aren’t many sharp boundaries in nature, and ecologists have a word to describe the transition zones between grassland and forest, sea and shore. They call them ecotones. And it strikes me that a lot of poems inhabit the ecotone between elegy and satire, ode and georgic. The ecotone between elegy and satire: Aimé Césaire’s Notebook of a Return to a Native Place comes to mind, also interestingly, an experiment in mixing verse and prose.

11.   That is, the philosophical poem, if it takes up the question of what the proper work of poetry is, and what kinds of language, what uses of metaphor constitute it, is doing a sort of exploration of poetic husbandry. Interestingly, like Virgil’s poem Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction [it] is written in four parts, each taking up a proposed aspect of its subject.

(A Little Book on Form, 336-340)

Poetry books which do “poetic husbandry.” I certainly find it suggestive and helpful to think of some contemporary poetry books—Citizen, for instance, as part of a Georgic tradition. Will revisit Césaire, will look into some of the contemporary works he lists at the chapter’s end: Peter Scott’s Coming to Jakarta, Gary Snyder’s Mountains and Rivers Without End, Lisa Robertson’s The Weather, Juliana Spahr’s The Connection of Everything with Lungs… I may want to write about the Georgic as genre some time; it’s clearly one of the more speculative and incomplete chapters in Hass’s book. Will be reading the Georgics themselves, too. I spent quite a bit of time last night doing a similar exercise as in my Dante post. Waiting for a copy of Kimberly Johnson’s translation in the mail. Thinking about the importance of Four.

Tags: georgic genre hass