Poetry and Currency

Monday, 23 February 2009, 11:34 | Category : Uncategorized
Tags :

Here’s an outtake from my talk last Friday in New York introducing Dana Gioia, an old friend who has just resigned the chairmanship of the National Endowment for the Arts with great relief to go and write poetry. He was receiving the annual Award for Excellence given each year by the Newington-Cropsey Cultural Studies Center, which I am part of and which publishes the American Arts Quarterly.   I was praising Dana’s reading initiative while he was chairman:

“The message was that the word is still the heart and meaning of the flesh, that our material culture draws its basic vital energies from our literary culture.

“We can communicate and create effectively only if there is a place where language can refine itself to say things with exactness while still preserving their richness and multivocality.  As our present economic crisis shows, if our currency is replaced by dishonest derivatives, we will be ruined: true poetry is the hard currency of communication, a language that keeps its promises and honors its bonds.

“Since the invention of the typewriter poetry has become disproportionately a visual art.  Its orphic and intuitive powers, however, come from its musical and aural character—it is memorable because it sings.  New research has shown that the prosodic character of spoken language is essential to its meaning.  This is obvious in a tonal language like Chinese, where the very meaning of a word depends on its tone. But English is no less tonal, except that we use tone and pitch not to establish our lexicon but to establish our syntax and logic.  In English we cannot speak a sentence without instinctively giving it a melody—all songwriters understand this.  It is a natural genius that we all possess, and that poets refine and amplify by the arts of meter and rhyme.

“The Greeks believed that the muses of the arts were the daughters of Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory.  True poetry is poetry that is remembered, a meme that sticks in peoples’ heads to be recovered at great need in love, grief, triumph or despair.”

By the way, for anyone in the Dallas area who might be interested, I am premiering my new science-fiction dramatic poem Resurrection tonight (6:30 pm, Mon 2/23/09) at the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture downtown on Routh Street.

6 Comments for “Poetry and Currency”

  1. 1Walker Pfost

    For reasons that would take too long to explain, I spent the entire summer of 2007 doing nothing but reading poetry—particularly new stuff from magazines. Since then, circumstances have reduced me to reading old classics (I say “old,” but… Ashbery, Nemerov, cummings, Kennedy? Not really, “old.” Whatever). I have forgotten too much about what I read that summer, but I still remember one name—Frederick Turner. All I read was your interview in The Southern Review, but I was fascinated by your interest in diverse subjects, and the iconoclastic way you approached them.

    It only just occurred to me to start googling around for some kind of blog or website that I could link to from my own, and wouldn’t you know it! You just started this bad boy up a month ago. And, regarding the uncertainty of going from one interview to a whole host of someone’s writings, I am not disappointed.

    I hope you keep it up. Cheers!

  2. 2Frederick Turner

    Thanks, Walker. I looked at your blog (<http://justiceavocado.blogspot.com/>) and was delighted by the wit, range, and personae of your poems. You might try submitting some of them to LIGHT, one of my favorite magazines.


  3. 3Patrick Gillespie

    Didn’t realize you were so new to the web when I linked to your article. I’ll add you to my blogroll. Glad to “meet” you, as it were. I know I’ve read material of yours at some point because your name is so familiar to me – probably having to do with the New Formalists? I’ll have to go back and take a look at Rebel Angels – see if you’re in there. Maybe you were in one of Gioia’s books?

    Shakespeare, by the way, is also one of *my* enduring literary obsessions. I correctly identified the real author of The Funeral Elegy (he said tooting his horn) but got no credit for it. There used to be a Shakespeare Mailing List (maybe it’s still around?) when all that hoopla was going on. I typed in Dr. Doddypol for the group (they thought it was by Shakespeare) and I forged a Shakespearean passage for the fun of it. That really got them going.

    Once I confessed (and I confessed as soon as I was asked) I was promptly black-balled.

    I still don’t regret it! That was a hoot.

    Anyway, welcome Frederick. I would love to get to know you better. Also, I’ve tried to contact Dana Gioia from time to time. Hope he gets back to writing more poetry…


  4. 4Allen Taylor

    Hello Dr. Turner,

    Welcome to the Blogosphere (crude word, isn’t it?). I miss Dallas, the town of my upbringing, and all my friends there. Wish I could have been there for your debut. I presume Resurrection may be a sequel to Genesis, or at least a similar work?

    You no doubt have no recollection of me but I was a student at UTD in the 1980s and I’ve credited you a number of times with challenging me to learn more about writing formal verse. You were right. It does add something to the craft. Glad to see you’ve joined us here on the blogoverse and that you decided to do it with the acquisition of your own property rather than follow the crowds to the free hosts.


  1. 1. Rhyme & Meter Online: Sunday March 2, 2009 « PoemShape
  2. 2. Rhyme & Meter Online: Sunday March 1, 2009 « PoemShape

Leave a comment