Poetry in Algebraic Form: Defining the Paraclete of Poetry

Poetry in Algebraic Form: Defining the Paraclete of Poetry


Poetry in algebraic form sounds disgusting, doesn't it? I mean, it sounds hideous, clinical and so very...unpoetic.

However, I feel as though I understand concepts better when I piece them out in various ways: written as prose, pictographs, algebraic forms, etc. Making prose metaphors and visual metaphors helps. Coding and organizing also helps. Hence, the now quite colorful section of my notebook in which I have pieced out the meaning of the first section of Ellen Bryant Voigt's "The Flexible Lyric".

The meanings I have pieced from the essay are as follows:


TEXTURE = the materials of the poem

STRUCTURE = the organization of the materials, the taxonomy (my term) of the materials, the architecture

FORM = the arrangement of the materials to create harmony, pattern, symmetry, recurrence and unity
One way to put it is in terms of building a house. You have, as the texture, the materials for building the home: cement, wood, nails, sheet rock, shingles, paint, siding, etc. For the structure, you have the architectural plans: the way you're going to take all those materials and make them a house. As the form, you have application of all the materials to shape the house overall: what the paint, siding, tiles, cement, shingles will all look like in the finished product.

One of my many jobs was working at a high school library; this made me think of the following metaphor:

The LIBRARY is the poem.

The books are the TEXTURE of the library.

The Dewey Decimal System, or Library of Congress Numbers (depending on your library), are the STRUCTURE.

The stacks where the books are placed is the FORM of the library.

I took it a little further and extended the metaphor with the librarian as the POET and the PATRON as the reader of the poem.

This is the assertion of Voigt, that the elements of a poem consist of texture, structure and form, as defined above. Voigt does not present her definition of these terms until the end of the first section of the essay. She first explores the ways the terms had been used in the past, by New Critics Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren and John Crowe Ransom, whose ideas were "unraveled" from Brooks and Warren.

She also asserts that this definition is based off of the function of a poem, rather than the substance of the poem. This is in opposition to Warren and Brooks, who defined the elements of a poem in terms of the substance of a poem by focusing on "form to the exclusion of structure" (116).

However, Voigt does not define precisely what she means by "function" of a poem over "substance" of a poem, unlike her careful explanation of structure, form and texture. I was left to make the leap from the dictionary definition of the terms and apply it to poetry. By form, I think she means the particular purpose of the poem, what the poem means to do as a work of art. By substance, I believe she means the essence, the gist of it and exploration of what the poem is.

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