Monday, September 29, 2014

The play of satisfied expectation

Randall Jarrell, when characterising Pound's The Cantos as "less a 'poem containing history' than a heap containing poetry, history, recollection, free associations, obsessions," quotes Kenneth Burke's statement that "Form … is a satisfied expectation," and elsewhere, in writing an introduction to Christina Stead's The Man Who Loved Children, he quotes Burke again and goes on to say that Stead's book also "has a good deal of the deliberate disappointment of an expectation that is also form."

Barbara Herrnstein Smith, in her wonderful little book Poetic Closure (1968) describes in detail how the continual play of expectation through a poem is what gives it form: "The perception of poetic structure is a dynamic process: structural principles produce a state of expectation continuously modified by successive events." The main focus of her book is how poems end ... "Closure allows the reader to be satisfied by the failure of continuation or, put another way, it creates in the reader the expectation of nothing."

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