Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Chicken salad and the mysteries of poetic craft

In a weak moment I bought one of those pre-barbecued chickens, basted in salt and lathered with a toxic red substance. Still, it left me with enough cold chicken for a good old chicken salad, a food that - like tuna casserole - was mysteriously absent from my upbringing and which I have embraced in later life. Here's a perfectly straightforward recipe, based on one from the Fanny Farmer Cookbook:
2 cups cooked chicken, skinned and chopped
1 chopped green onion
1 rib celery, chopped
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tbsp plain yogurt
1 tbsp wine vinegar
Salt and ground pepper to taste
Combine mayonnaise, yogurt and vinegar and blend well; add seasonings. Toss chicken, onion and celery with dressing until well mixed. Serve as a salad, on a bed of greens, or as a sandwich filling, on toasted English muffins. Why mess with simplicity? Have it with a lovely bowl of Edamame, drizzled with sesame oil and dusted with salt.

It hardly needs saying that Mark Strand is not a chicken, or a salad, nor even simple, but interesting to know he is Canadian-born (PEI). I first came across his name as co-editor (with Eavan Boland) of the form poetry anthology, The Making of a Poem. He's also published a handy little book of essays on poetry called The Weather of Words. I'm finding it heavy going, but there are always moments in any such collection, and so I soldier on. I thought this, from the start of Notes on the Craft of Poetry, was an interesting take on it:
"Each poem demands that I treat it differently from the rest, come to terms with it, seek out its own best beginning and ending. And yet I would be kidding myself if I believed that nothing continuous existed in the transactions between myself and my poems. I suppose this is what we mean by craft: those transactions that become so continuous we not only associate ourselves with them but allow them to represent the means by which we make art… To a large extent these transactions I have chosen to call craft are the sole property of the individual poet and cannot be transferred to or adopted by others. One reason for this is that they are largely unknown at the time of writing and are discovered afterwards, if at all."
He quotes Orwell's rules of good writing, and questions whether these or any rules can really be applied to poetry: "For the poems that are of greatest value are those that inevitably, unselfconsciously break rules..."

His argument against craft is that it cannot work as a defining or diagnostic concept, because poetry "cannot be understood so much as absorbed." He seems to be an advocate for mystery, arguing that we not attempt to impose a structure on the process of creating poems, because to do that is to imply a common purpose for poetry, which it eludes, because a poem's purpose "...is not disclosure or storytelling or the telling of a daydream; nor is a poem a symptom. A poem is itself and is the act by which it is born. It is self-referential and is not necessarily preceded by any known order, except that of other poems."

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Blogger Brenda Schmidt said...

That bowl of edamame looks delicious! Your blog sure gives me an appetite.

8:18 p.m.  

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