The Art and Artifice of Poetry | Hamza Yusuf & Scott Crider

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Art and artifice of Poetry

Youtube Link: The Art and Artifice of Poetry | Hamza Yusuf & Scott Crider


Moderator: <> recently wrote an article for us for Renovatio and you make an arguments about poetry so maybe you could just give us a little summation of that

Scott Crider: Certainly, I'm very interested in the topic of "What makes a human being, a human being".  And I wanted to identify language which I quite naturally rushed to as that which makes us human and ie we are the

we are the animal with language but then I was remembering encountering this remarkable text at the beginning of putnams art of posy.  And in it, he clearly sees language as central to humanity that that really constitutes our humanity as such but he does not focus on the the rhetorical aspect as much as on the poetic which I found really interesting and so I wanted to explore a reading of his text and to just draw from what he says an argument about why it may be that it's poetry that actually makes us human a particular form of language which I think he does associate with rhetoric

but he tensed and continues to throughout it to emphasize poetry itself

and I decided after following his reasoning that he thinks this is the

case because poetry is particularly concentrated form of ordering language

metrically stands a eclis figuratively and I've begun to see that he thinks

that that ordering has a way of reordering the human soul of the one who

participates in poetry and then reorders the the soul of of others as well and so

it becomes a social order and I was really quite stunned to see

that Putnam thinks that poetry more or less makes us human by remaking us

through the poetic art itself one of the interesting things about human beings is

that I don't think there's a culture or civilization that doesn't have poetry

it's a it's really an argument for a universality of nature that there is a

human nature because and and the interesting thing is almost every

peoples and cultures certainly the ones

that all the ones that we know have the poetry is very similar it's about three

seconds for each line and it begins hundreds of years before I mean we have

recorded poetry from China in like I think 500 BC and a homer obviously and

in the in the Greek tradition is even earlier and another aspect that too

fascinates me personally is that arguably every single civilization

because we have Aboriginal peoples and then we have city people people that

create civilizations of very complex aggregates of people living together and

that all of those civilizations are prefaced with great poetry mmm

so for instance if you look at the Greeks I don't think I think it's

arguable that you know you cannot have Plato or Socrates without Homer and and

the number of times that they quote Homer that's right as a source book and

in in the in the Islamic tradition the very first book is the Quran but the

Quran is preceded in almost immediately

the the the the hundred years before the

Quran is the pinnacle of Arabic poetry

and right before the the Quran emerges

was considered they had reached

Acme of poetic prowess the famous ODEs

the seven ODEs that hung in the Kaaba

these were the great they call them

heceta and and then if you look at

European civilization I mean arguably

are in Norton's anthology because with

the Song of Roland you know our

literature begins with a song of Roland

and then the the English Shakespeare is

and Marlowe and all these great poets

Ben Jonson they precede the the King

James Bible I mean it's just amazing

that the King James Bible which is

arguably what created English civilized

in my trouser before that and be a wolf

even before that but arguably

the King James Bible does so much for

America without the King James out we

don't have Abraham Lincoln we don't have

so many of the rhetorical greatness that

the civilization produced yeah the point

about Homer is extremely interesting

because it immediately raises the

question what do we mean by poetry and

on the one hand we do mean measured

speech and so we are yeah we are talking

about dactylic hexameter verse so on the

one hand we recognize that Plato's own

understanding of music is itself arising

from Homeric poetry that is is musical

accompanied or not it's a lie exactly

because meter meter itself is a kind of

lyre within the language but then of

course Homer is also a memetic artist so

not just that it's verse but that it's

mimetic or representational of human of

human action and what I find

tremendously compelling about the

antagonistic relationship between Homer

and especially Plato and you're

absolutely right Socrates will quote

the Socrates the character will quote

Homeric verse regularly but what I find

so intriguing is that it's quite clear

that Plato arguably the first writer of

philosophical texts is clearly imitating

homer and not just topically but by

fashioning works that have been

influenced by Homeric fashion sure one

of things I like to point out to

students is that's why he wanted the

poets exiled so they wouldn't see yeah

that's right that he was stealing from

them but also that he's fashioning a new

form of poetry

it seems naive to me not to recognize

that when he critiques Homer as a poet

in the Republic he knows that his

audience realizes that the Republic

itself is a poem it's narrated my

Socrates that's the dramatized narrator

he says I went down to PI Reyes the

other day and you realized that if you

were to explore Greek literature and ask

where have we heard someone tell their

own tale before about going down it

becomes quite clear that he realizes

that his audience will know that he's

imitating he's imitating homers

representation of Odysseus telling his

own tale at the fire key in court and so

I think that Plato actually wants to

write a new form of poetry but the

condition of possibility for that is is

is clearly is clearly homer and it's

that that quality of making making music

of fabricating through this mimetic art

of representation worlds fictional

worlds in which we can participate and

observe and be moved by characters who

who are not people but resemble people

it draws us into a kind of

intelligibility of human action and our

our compassion so often in response to


to their suffering that that I think may

actually be central to humanity which

might indicate why it's universal well

why indeed storytelling in some form or

another is is there in every culture we

encounter and I think a lot of people

have pointed this out throughout the

ages that we speak rhythmically that

human languages by its very nature


a lot of people are completely unaware

that Shakespeare is actually in verse

it's true because it's so natural to be

or not to be that as the good version it

just it flows trippingly off the tape

does indeed and and you can scan parts

of Lincoln and Melville absolutely I

mean you can scan parts of what we're

saying no doubts it's just

especially iambic because this is the

the the meter of the English language

tends to fall into the iambic but the

the use of meter in conveying meaning

and before because I want to extend

about poetry extend it beyond verse

because certainly it you know the Greek

concept it comes from a word which is

basically about artifice to create

something to make something and and

certainly imaginative literature is all

if it's good if it's great it reaches a

level of poetry but the epic poem which

obviously homers our greatest in in

Western civilization the epic poem it's

there's so few people have been able to

do it and it's been tried many times the

last time we had we we actually had a

caracal character in early American

history Joel Barlow

do you do I don't know he's famous for a

poem called Hasty Pudding which is very

often anthology

he was part of the Connecticut wits he

was a friend of George Washington but he

had aspirations to be an epic he wanted

to be America's epic

and and he attempted but it's it's it

was a failed attempt and it's it's just

very interesting then what's called the

noble voice you know that that was one

of them Stringfellow bar I think wrote a

book called the noble voices Ono Van

Doren actually about the epic poem why

is the epic poem so difficult to to do

no that's a wonderful that's a wonderful

question at least in literary studies we

tend to assume that the epic poem took

up took up residence if you will in the

novel and so that the novel began to do

the work of the love of the epic poem

but what's interesting about that is

that the novel is really quite

essentially composed of prose it's its

body if you will is a prose ybody

right whereas the the epic poem is in is

in verse and so a lot of people will

suggest that that may be for example

Wordsworth's prelude was the last great

epic but we actually I think live in an

age of a great epic poem derek walcott

so marrows which is a magnificent

treatment of life in in the caribbean

and and takes up a number of questions

and does so by means of a central

character named - he'll clearly named

for achilles and is always running a

Homeric parallel along his own quite

distinct contemporary Caribbean culture

Dante - is quite influential in that in

that poem but I I think it's very

difficult to do of course in part

because readers are not accustomed to

reading verse as often as they used to

be and expect their stories to be in in

prose and so when people read literature

they tend to presume that means reading

novels imaginative

literature is I won't say it's reduced

to novels but that's that really is the

form of literature people most gravitate

toward in part because we haven't taught

enough people recently how drivers

needed to write no that's exactly right

one of these is an art that has to be

taught one of the things about well not

necessarily I mean there there are

people that do naturally the Arabs are

amazing at that I know some pretty

sophisticated Arabic poets that that

really don't know the prosody of and

it's it's like Greek it's not syllabic

so it's it it's not accentually it's

it's related to the actual duration of

the word so it's long short as opposed

to light heavy or heavy light or heavy

that doesn't surprise me though actually

because as you were saying it indicates

poetry itself indicates some natural

talent for it right which means that the

measure in language is natural to

language yeah exactly and some people

will have an extraordinarily whole

musician powerful natural gift with or

without training but but but art art

will improve it right so even those

without as much talent can have that an

element proved through art you often

hear about musicians that we would

recognize as clearly quite talented who

don't know music my first thought is

always what if they did how would it

change how would it how would it change

what would be the accomplishment if all

for the Beatles actually knew how to

read music well I'm used to the song Cat


I heard him once say that he found it so

difficult to learn other people's music

so he just decided to write his own

and I thought that was really

interesting because one of the things

about classical musicians is that all

they loot they start from day one

learning not really how to make music

but how to imitate music and and this is

something that the pre-modern world was

obsessed with with mimesis with its

artifice with with actually one of the

things was very common they the idea of

creative writing would have been insane

to to anybody before the 20th century

that the idea that you could teach

people how to write what you could teach

them to do was how to imitate and and so

they would you know have a sentence like

when in the course of human events and

then they'd have to the student would

have to write a sentence with completely

different words but following the form

of that sentence and and so artifice was

not a negative thing whereas today it's

become a very negative thing and I think

one of the tragedies of a lot of modern

especially the young people i I actually

think it's it's really unfair to them to

encourage them to write poetry because

99.9 percent of it is is tripe and and

they're not because their self-esteem

has to be boosted we're not allowed to

actually say that's doggerel and it's

complete rubbish and we have to say gee

that's wonderful great you know a way to

go and instead of doing the traditional

way which would have they would have

memorized great poetry and and

internalize it I mean we talk about

learning something by heart it's such a

beautiful idiom the idea of

internalizing something and one of the

things that the Arabs say that if you

want to be a great poet memorize the

corpus of a great poet and then forget

it that's right and I think Dylan to me

who you know there's a lot of debate

about Dylan but III really do think he

he's he will be in the Canon that's my

do and and and and there there are

people like Rick ceteris prefer Riggs

and others I just read a book about him

why Dylan matters from a Harvard

professor making that argument and I

think the Dylan when he came to New York

I think he knew 200 Woody Guthrie songs

and he was basically I've got three

imitative using ramblin Jack Elliott s--

style and then the other major influence

on him was Hank Williams who is also a

really I mean I think quite an

extraordinary lyricist Rick said makes a

make Sakai heard mix make this case

actually in public that uh that he

thinks he's influenced as well by a

number of a number of poets including

including Elliott this this DynaMed I

mean he read Verlaine Rambo he was hero

definitely had a big this dynamic of

imitation up to a habit and then a habit

which is no longer consciously imitating

and then becomes innovative and I think

is actually the classical model for for

education for education itself it's

interesting that we're talking about

teaching people how to write but of

course we also want to make readers and

so I think because of a fear frequently

of the massive technical vocabulary

that's often involved improvident

prosody people will be worried if you

will about about introducing young

people to to poetry but I think it's a

mistake because for for one thing you

cannot suppress it right so so in fact

the desire for rhyme which is a

different kind of chord than then the

most most poetry globally is is in blank


so rhyme is is Chinese poetry is

definitely the Arabs are obsessed with

Ryan yeah there's a great scene in Dead

Poets Society where the character that's

played by Robin Williams Robin Williams

rips out that you know that kind of

Cartesian analytic approach the X and

the y that's right and whether a poem is

great and

even though the message of that film I

didn't like but but that one scene I

really appreciate it because I remember

very clearly the first time a poem hit

me in the gut like I was in eighth grade

hmm and and and it was a literature

class I we I was actually at a

progressive school where they had four

quads and so based on your aptitude you

went like they had a quad for it was

actually pretty horrific now and I think

about it this social engineering but

they had a quad for math and science

they had a quad for arts and music and

things and then they had a quad for just

like vocation well these are like eight

so the students were divided by yeah and

so I was in the language arts down quad

but I remember clearly reading

Ozymandias and it was just it just

really affected me you know in such a

deep way and that was the first time a

poem had ever done that that's for me

and well I was just gonna say and I

don't think had it been explained to me

in that x/y that's ripe thing it

wouldn't it it was a gut reaction I

think the question is in whether but

when pedagogically I actually I actually

do think that we should bring the art to

the to the students on the other hand I

know we have to we have to do it in a

way that actually killed doesn't kill

the spirit that that that recognition

that you had in your heart like rhetoric

you know one of the things about

rhetoric that when you learn all the

tricks it can it can it can almost take

the magic okaylet but it but if if you

if you it can also have the opposite

effect where you really appreciate the

artifice where you really appreciate

what a master is doing

and when they're when they're true

masters there's a reason why somebody

like Frost will go from it I am to

anapest in in I mean he knows what he's

doing because to him the the the form

was actually sometimes he said that a

great poet for him the form is surpasses

the importance of the content and and I

think there's a lot of truth to that I

think I think Shakespeare I mean you can

see Shakespeare is having fun with

language you know he's you can see his

tongue in cheek you know a horse a horse

my kingdom for a horse I mean you can

hear the horse trot you know and it's

such a wonderful

so to understand what he's doing yeah

you know with like a kind of spondee

type of and you it's interesting they

said you can hear it which means that

that memorization is not enough actually

what we want to do I think as well is

that once a student has memorized a poem

we want them to deliver it but when we

want them to recite it and it's there I

think where the vocabulary comes in

right as a useful way to explain the the

recitation that they're that they're

doing I think we don't do enough with

delivery unfortunately it is very

important it's almost nixed from the

Canon no that's right we live we live in

a loud culture the volume may not have

ever been this high in human culture but

the discrimination of sound from sound

act yeah the last two cannons are really

they've been mixed and and they're it's

I mean all of it really very few people

learn the invention which is so central

I mean the the the you know the first

and the dominant you know definition but

then comparison and and and in the in

the in the in the topics of invention

comparison is is that's the bread

but ER of great poetry the conceit

finding two things that are so

dissimilar and yet bringing them

together in a way that's the aha moment

shall I compare thee to a summers day

like me in fact in the poetics Aristotle

says and this I think actually confirms

something you were saying before he says

that the power of of metaphor can't be

taught and I'm not convinced of that by

the way but it's a very interesting idea

that in indeed the ability to see

counterintuitive likenesses which then

become quite intuitive is is a real gift

but there's no doubt there's no doubt

about it a figuration figuration is

crucial and metaphor metaphor central

but I still think a lot about this need

to ask students to to stand and to

deliver to use another teacher movie

that that I enjoy and that is to ask

them to speak because what I office of

assertion no that's right more and more

what I find is that the that students

will that was a plug for your book thank

you I appreciate that the students more

and more actually have trouble

articulating them themselves and again

it's not because they don't have often

quite very intelligent and interesting

things to say but they're frequently

intimidated by public public discourse

they're exceptions no doubt it seems to

me that the that any number of young

people who are particularly naturally

gifted at it yeah but I think to to ask

them to memorize so that they don't have

to access their phone but to ask them to

memorize and to ask them to recite and

to recite artistically I think is is

itself a great gift because at that

point they're being given their own

voice but it's a voice that's being

educated by by poetry itself I I make

students memorize to their chagrin in

every class that I do they have to

memorize and I incorporate poetry and

all I had

when I taught astronomy I had a book on

all the the poetry to deal with the

Stars and when I taught ethics they read

The Merchant of Venice so I always I

always have poetry and bring it in and

corporated I think it's really important

I think one of the things about did you

use sonnet 116 for the for the astronomy

course I I can't remember I actually had

a book that was just poems about the

Stars but one of the things about poets

I think is they just have brilliant ears

because people are saying poetic things

all the time

there are children are saying poetic

things I was I was at the grocery store

the other day and there was this elderly

I think she was probably Filipino

American lady and she was a little plump

and and she was in front of me and her

and her husband or significant other

showed up she was about to buy things

and he showed up with a Ben & Jerry's

Cherry Garcia you know and she looked at

it and just her eyes lit up and she said

oh my favorite and she said but I've

gained so many pounds eating that but

happy pounds you know and I I think

that's what Dickens was able to do he

just listened to people's conversations

because one of the things that that's so

clear from great poets is their

characters are so different and when a

bad writers always you feel the same 'no

sits right in the characters whereas

great writers are clearly I I once saw

somebody he was reading Dostoyevsky's

the brother to cameras off at the

airport so I just said how's that book

going for you and he just he put it down

he looked up he said this is not fiction


and that's what great poetry is not

fiction in that way it's like mythology

you know it's the mythos my father's

definition of mythology was too true to

be believable

and and and I think I Dylan you know

there's there's a there's an old skit

from a from a program where where they

have Dylan at would he got through his

bedside you ever see that know what were

you know they're actors and he says

how's things going woody and he's like

the answer is bl