Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

"Poetry as Method" by Sandra L. Faulker (Left Coast Press, 2009)

The subtitle is "Reporting Research Through Verse", which I understood better than I did the explanation of the book's purpose in the preface. The idea of writing up research in poetry rather than prose is new to me. I can see how in some sociology settings it may have a chance of working, but surely the risk of sacrificing truth or balance for the sake of art or impact is too great. Surely it's better to let a poet have a freer rein, like Alice Oswald does in "Dart".

The author thinks that researchers and poets might have the same aims - "I see poets and poet-researchers addressing similar goals of social inequities along with the possibilities of exploring new ways of understanding", p.33. She itemizes some approaches that a poet-researcher might take -

  • "A common method of poetic transcription entails researchers highlighting participants' exact words and language from interview transcripts, cutting and pasting the essential elements in an effort to reveal the essence of a participant's lived experience" (p.31) ... "Some poet-researchers consider this process of extraction to be like found poetry" (p.32)
  • "An alternative to using traditional transcripts is to bypass transcription of the interview in prose form and instead initially create a poetic transcript" (p.32)

In Chapter 2 we're given the opinion of 11 poets about what good poetry is - the usual stuff about it being authentic, memorable, possessing surety of voice, etc. With so few poets (and no Language Poets, etc) it's hard to draw conclusions. Wisely, the author doesn't really try. I don't see the point of the chapter.

In Chapter 3 some Ars Poetica are studied and many aphorisms quoted, the conclusion being "the importance of embodied experience through attention to the senses, especially the imperfections that often lead to discovery and surprise. Poetry is a precise way of seeing at the same time that it is conditional and partial and interested in approximations of something akin to 'truth'. I also see the impossibility of articulating one vision of good poetry" (p.79). In her own ars poetica the features are "artistic concentration, embodied experience, discovery/surprise, conditionality, narrative truth, and transformation" (p.88) where "Discovery means that a poem teaches us to see something familiar in new ways or ways that may be surprising; we learn something about the human condition and ourselves" (p.91).

She considers Nicole Cooley's Salem Witch collection to be good research poetry. The "Example of Research Poetry" of chapter 4 is by the book's author. A sestina is plausibly justified on the grounds there are repeated words and phrases in the material collected from participants. Use of pantoum is well motivated on p.117. I liked her "Dr H. Kitty Considers Her Dissertation as Ars Poetica" but not

I don't care who you are or what you do or
why you want to interview me or who
you are working with or what consent form
you need me to sign befoe I tell you my story
of being gay and not so Jewish; that ad for Queer
Jews tacked to the board at the pride center
was evocative enough for me to talk. He tells me

this over toast and eggs [...]

Why no quote-marks? Why the interruptive stanza break? Come to that, why the line-breaks? I'm not convinced by the approach in general. She writes -

  • "I use research poetry rather than a standard prose format to present participants' narratives, as poetry can closely represent the way that people talk, their language use, and patterns of speech, and I want to privilege and recreate these patterns, syntax, words and rhythm in lyrical ways that prose representations cannot do" p.99
  • "What I believe all of these research poems accomplish better than a standard representation of narrative themes is an in-process examination of critical elements that changed participants' behaviour or events in their lives that caused them to reveal/conceal/negotiate their LGBTQ Jewish identity" p.121

Part of my overall difficulty accepting this is that I don't see poetry as a special species of language, capable, like a wave of a magic wand, of transforming base matter into gold. Prose/collage is a flexible medium. Nor do I see the need to make statements like

  • "the success of any given research project is linked to the research purpose(s) and how well the methodology has facilitated research objectives and communicated research findings" (Patricia Levy, 2009)
  • "our conceptions of good or effective poetry may alter through time, experience, and changing tastes" (p.92)
  • "criteria are mutable and dependent on particular communities and situations" (p.93)
  • "Revision is important, if not vital, in a poetic subject" (p.136)

If such issues had been the starting points with much more focus on audience reception, the book could have been much shorter and less Sandra-centred. Nor do I understand this quote (or its need) from Craig Gingrich-Philbrook - "Any serious student of poetry, however, soon recognizes the profound erasure at work in the paucity of metapoetic discourse in autoethnography's metamethodological talk". But I do agree that

  • "One challenge of a concentrated study of poetic inquiry is how this work will be labelled and accepted" (p.128)
  • "not all poetry need be published as part of a project. The use of poetry as a means for data analysis and reflective practice can complement traditional social science practice" (p.128)
  • "poet-researchers could consider interdisciplinary collaboration with poets" (p.129)

i.e. I like the idea of Oswald's "Dart" when treated as poetry. As a research deliverable I'd worry about its conflicting aims.

The suggestions for exercises are good. She suggests dramatic monologues and Ekphrasis (especially with a review/essay tendency), both of which seem apposite.

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