Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Not Another Anti - "Narrative Arc" Rant

Lately there has been talk of the "narrative arc" of chapbooks & poetry collections. Some eschew this tendency on the part of other poets while others laud the benefits of the poems in a manuscript to "hold together". I'm not sure that any poem written by the same author can be anything but a part of a "narrative arc". After all whatever one writes is but a facet of the mindset of that author. If we "see things as we are" can anything that is produced by our cognitive mindset be that different from whatever else we wrote say in the last few years that it took for us to put a MS together (barring some life-changing occurrence)?

Yes cognitive mindsets do evolve and change as life's experiences change, but certain socio-cultural variables (which inevitably define us) will always be constant in our lives. These variables are unique in each and every person. That is why one voice can never fully echo another. This is also why I must reluctantly side with the school of thought that thinks that deliberately manipulating a manuscript to more closely appear that it follows a "narrative arc" is redundant. There already is a "narrative arc" in place and that is the narrative of the poet's existence that is transmitted to us via the objectification of their poems.

4 comments:

Collin said...

We've been having this debate over at Brent Goodman's blog with folks weighing in for or against. I have nothing personal against a narrative arc if that's what benefits the work.

While putting together my new manuscript, I purposely cut out the persona poems and political rants because none of them fit within the three mini-arcs I've created. But in doing that, I created an arc of separate poems that might wind up in a chapbook someday. However, I do feel with those poems -- esp. the persona ones -- that I was writing outside my normal mindset.

Nick said...

Yup, there's a great discussion over at Brent Goodman's. Just my $.02 worth here.

Robert said...

I suppose all dichotomies are in some wise false, and narrative v.s. lyric is no exception. That said, I think you raise a good point about theme (for lack of a better word) being a kind of parent to narrative (a sibling therefore being voice). If theme is what gives work cohesion, then narrative is but one option to achieve that end. Some have the impulse to tell a story. Others, to compose thoughts and images together in archetypal effect. I think you're right, though - we can't avoid some kind of theme, even if, in the end, the theme is "stuff that issued from the author's mind." Because given a large enough body of work by one person, themes invariably emerge. I find the best and most interesting themes, though, are either unintended or worked on obliquely - deliberate and intentional theme constraints seem to rob a work of its essential creative heat.

Nick said...

RE: "I find the best and most interesting themes, though, are either unintended or worked on obliquely - deliberate and intentional theme constraints seem to rob a work of its essential creative heat."

Agreed!