Language Invented, or What? A Panel on Poetry

The Antioch Review, Spring 1997 | Go to article overview

Language Invented, or What? A Panel on Poetry


Ralph Angel: Because poetry is the language for which we have no language, it often sounds peculiar to the ear. But there's a reason for that. It is the poet's task, as it is for all artists, to reveal through our art fundamental concerns of human nature. Only by doing so might our poems serve as crossroads where our individual differences intersect. They are, like all great art, acts of faith.

And yet poets have only two tools to rely on: their personal experience and the language in which they compose. Over time, they often discover that in order to really touch upon the essential nature of their experience, they must reinvent the language. And we, as readers, discover that the sound of an individual poet's voice is therefore somewhat strange, often like a song we've never heard before.

Issues of language are interesting to me in part because, as young apprentices, poets are in the same position as all young artists. We mimic and copy the poets who speak to us. We learn from them. They open doors for us. And, in our early days, by degrees, we sound like them. But over time we not only mature as craftspeople, but also as individuals. And so, as poets, our language evolves as we evolve toward our private and poetic destinies.

I've asked the poets who are with me today on this panel to consider this simple polemic and, in that context, to trace for you their own artistic evolution. And they are here to do just that - to share with you the lineage of their poetic and artistic journey.

Gillian Conoley: There is a quote about language by Max Picard that I really love. He says, "If words didn't go out of themselves to refresh themselves in things, they would hang around in heaps and impede our movements, like things in a warehouse." I love how in that sentence, language is given such a life of its own, a force that we are free to use, or engage in, but then there is also the recognition that language can have its way with us, that it's certainly equal to us, if not more than equal.

Every phrase one writes, every juxtaposition one makes, is a manifestation of using a full-blown language full of possibilities of meaning and impossibilities of meaning, a language that has been constructed of the many manifestations of what one could call one's composite "selves," and then multiplied perhaps even infinitely by the languages that created those "selves." So which came first? The words for, or the "identities" of, say, quiet child, surly teen, blissful mother, angry bitch, the list goes on . . . and the vocabularies of each merge and meld into what one could call "one's language." But then I can't help but find that phrase totally inadequate. "One's language." How could there be one? And how could one "own" it?

My earliest experiences of language, or language of community, had to be on the streets of my very own small hometown in Texas, where in the 1950s it was not uncommon to hear four languages being spoken at once on the three blocks of Main Street: Spanish was one, of course, and because there were also many first- and second-generation immigrants from Germany and what was then called Czechoslovakia, German and Czech, and lastly, and most commonly, English. Many of my childhood friends' parents spoke a broken English, or a heavily accented English, and when enraged, would fly into their native tongues. Multitudinous, ephemeral, opaque, language was a dissociative experience from the beginning, and from the beginning, it had its own life.

Though I have no way of knowing, I believe that at some point in my language acquisition, language just sort of took over. I was intrigued by the music of it, the music of the different languages I heard growing up, and the kind of harmonious music this would make when it was coupled with the homey, plain diction of the town. It may even be possible to say that where once I sought a vocabulary of ideas, I began to seek ideas for vocabularies.

And most recently I have become intensely interested in silence, in what's there when language isn't. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Language Invented, or What? A Panel on Poetry
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.