Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Secular Free Verse vs. Religious Formal Verse

I think there are good reasons why formal poetry the world over preceded free verse. Those reasons are likely to be biological than directly connected to religion, but the ancient naturalness of both seem to be connected to each other.

On the other hand, free verse and the non(anti)-formalist verse that followed seem to be distinctly secular in manmade-and-therefore-unnatural fashion. The antiformalists all argued (absurdly) that formal verse was antidemocratic, indeed, elitist — while their verse (which the masses hated, loving formal verse) was democratic and anti-elitist. Of course, the opposite was in fact true. People prefer lyrical rock, country, and rap songs to surrealist, LANGUAGE, and postmodern poetry. With the addition of such music especially, formal verse seems to tap into a deep Dionysian element that 20th century free verse and other antiformalist poetry discards completely. Formal verse seems to tap into the very rhythms of the universe — including our mental/neural universe — which makes it deeply religious in its experience. This is something free verse, etc. cannot create, whatever other interesting elements they may have. In this sense nonformalist poetry is deeply secular insofar as it cannot connect us to those deep rhythms which we describe as religious.

Of course, as I have pointed out elsewhere (my dissertation, for one), poetry is likely to have its origins in song, which is the reunion of language and music from a primate mating song (think gibbons). Indeed, we know that The Iliad and The Odyssey were sung, and these were religious texts. It seems likely that many initial songs were connected to religion as well. Of course, if you want to get right down to it, songs and dancing were both likely connected to mating calls and sexual demonstrations (as they still do). At the same time, I am convinced that the emergence of language gave rise to the simultaneous emergence of religion. Which may be why the earliest narratives are religious texts. This double origin of poetry -- in sexual music and language-giving-rise-to-religion is probably why there is so much tension with religion and sex in poetry.
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