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Passions in Poetry

Truth versus poetic license

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Grinch
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0 posted 01-28-2008 06:53 PM       View Profile for Grinch   Email Grinch   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Grinch

In 2005 Katie Melua released a song called Nine Million Bicycles that contained the following lyrics:

We are 12 billion light-years from
the edge,
That's a guess,
No one can ever say it's true,
But I know that I will always be
with you.

Simon Singh, a physicist, took exception to the inaccuracies in the song and published an article in the Guardian newspaper suggesting that the lyrics should be changed to be more accurate, his suggestion was as follows:

We are 13.7 billion light-years from
the edge of the observable universe,
That's a good estimate with
well-defined error bars,
Scientists say it's true, but
acknowledge that it may be refined,
And with the available information, I predict that I will always be
with you

Katie, to her credit, accepted Singh’s tounge-in-cheek critique and actually re-recorded the song with the revised lyrics for a BBC Radio 4 broadcast.

To cut a long story short my question is just how much deviation from reality is allowed when writing, I’m thinking specifically here about elaboration of an actual event to manufacture interest. Does such elaboration move the output from a factual to a fictional work divorcing the final product from the original intent entirely? If so how much deviation does poetic license allow?

serenity blaze
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1 posted 01-28-2008 07:08 PM       View Profile for serenity blaze   Email serenity blaze   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for serenity blaze

I just wish we could ask Oliver Stone. (I believe someone did and he answered with a shrug--it's a movie.)

I only take offense when it is presented as fact and distorted, such as Michael Moore's unnecessary convenient editing.

In poetry, I have been known to write "true serenity stories"--and those contain the facts, but I do consider the facts like, say, the outlines drawn in a coloring book. I can fill those lines with colors of my choice. If I opt to color outside of the lines, however, I tend to tell people so.

But--it's poetry--not journalism. (even though, *ahem*, some people call what I do "journaling")

*grin*

Dream on, oh critics. The day I let anyone read an entire journal of my life...well, I'd have to write that, now wouldn't I?

It ain't happening. (Unless someone offers me a big fat advance check. )
Bob K
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2 posted 01-29-2008 12:46 PM       View Profile for Bob K   Email Bob K   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Bob K

Dear Grinch,

           Even people who fact check and are scrupulous succeed, at best, only in approximating truth.  That's because truth gets shoved around by such factors as point of view, or whose truth told from which political religious and temporal perspective. An attempt at objective truth shifts the point of view of reports of the truth from those of, perhaps, observers or participants to a different set of points of view, those of measurable data that are commonly agreed upon, but which still must be presented as somebody's point of view, either as synthesized and gathered text or lists or in some other form.  The text or lists or raw data presents somebody else's selection of point of view, though it may be editorial.

     Often times this leads to an overt or covert proxy war of authorities in which representitives of various points of view duke it out on the basis of  a somewhat more sophisticated version of My Dad Can Beat Up Your Dad.  How much more sophisticated is open to question the more political or religious the particular "truth" in question happens to be.

     So far, the kinds of truth we have been trying to talk about may have some sort of referent in the wold of facts, whatever that may be.  But when one starts to talk about literary truth, simplicity goes out the window.  We are talking about more than the weather on D-Day, we are talking about the emotional rightness of the weather on D-Day.   We are talking about why Iago is whispering all these nasty lies into Othello's ear.  We know that Iago says
he simply wants to destroy Othello for the pleasure of it, but if Iago is lying to Othello, then why, dear friend, do you expect that he's telling you the truth?  

     I would suggest, G., that poetic license is permission to tell the story in the way that works best, nothing more.
If you are telling a true story, a poem or a fiction, you still have the same responsibility here.  You need to get the story told the best way you can.  If the story is journalism, you need to understand the facts as best you can and present them as simply and straightforwardly as possible.
Here, your loyalty is to the facts as you understand them.
Your poetic license extends to the ways you may do that most effeciently.

     In fiction as in poetry, your poetic license extends to  the work itself.  Your loyalty is to that work.  Your question is what that work needs to achieve its most effecient independant shape.  If it's effecient but not independent, the piece will never see a second reader, let alone publication.  If it's independant but not effecient, its themes will be too minor to make an impact.  Lies in this context are perfectly useful and even beautiful.  If the lies are effecient enough, they help give the work meaning and depth in a way that attempting to tell an ill understood truth would not.  

     More perhaps later, Grinch.  I'm interested to hear what you or others think, and to see how that affects my own thinking on the matter.  Very interesting topic. Thanks for bringing it up, and it seems well worthy of more thought.  BobK.
Grinch
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3 posted 01-29-2008 01:36 PM       View Profile for Grinch   Email Grinch   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Grinch

BobK

I understand that factual is a questionable term being, as it is, based on the writers perception and point of view, although holding hard to that definition and following it through to it’s inevitable conclusion would relegate all factual writing to works of fiction. My question is aimed more specifically towards blatant inaccuracy in fictional work which is supposedly anchored in, and reflective of, reality.

Another example, perhaps clearer than the first I gave, would be these two lines from Tennyson:

Every moment dies a man,
Every moment one is born.

Charles Babbage (another man of science) was quick to point out that this is actually nonsense, it’s very poetic nonsense, but nonsense just the same. If this were true the population would be in a state of stasis, never increasing nor decreasing. How then can we accept anything Tennyson says as being anywhere near correct or reasonable if he’s willing to claim factual status for an obvious fiction?

[This message has been edited by Grinch (01-29-2008 02:52 PM).]

Bob K
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4 posted 01-29-2008 04:04 PM       View Profile for Bob K   Email Bob K   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Bob K



Still interesting, Grinch,

                              I think you treat readers as though they were fools here.  Were somebody, even somebody as compellingly bright as Babbage, think to offer me a correction on Tennyson's point, I would be compelled to reflect somewhat ruefully on the lack of analogic imagination poor Babbage must have suffered under throughout his entire life to miss the point of Tennyson's lines and then to take such apparently spectacular glee in doing so.

     Yes, I admire Babbage's ability to construct lines of precise digital reasoning without getting distracted.  His capacity is rare.  But Tennyson is not offering a syllogism for our evaluation here.  Digital and analogical are capacities that each occupy their own brain hemispheres, roughly.  Similar digital reasoning applied to lines such as "My love is like a red red rose," would yield similar analyses from the digital brain.  A rose is a plant, your love is a human being.  If you're a woman, you probably love a guy; the red red rose is by definition female. And no human being has ever had a body that color, nor is it likely that you would want to embrace them if they were that thorny.

     Poetry uses high amounts of conotative and symbolic language along with straightforward imagry and accounts of actual events.  Babbage is uncomfortable with this, and in all likelihood didn't understand symbolic discourse all that well.  Denotation he understood.  Mathamatical "symbols" are insofar as I understand them not actual symbols at all in the philosophical sense, as in Susanne Langer's PHILOSOPHY IN A NEW KEY, but denotative signs with pretty exacting definitions.  Not like symbols are used in poetry or literature as unparaphrasable whole complexes of analogy and meaning; or as in music, which Langer brilliantly calls "the unconsumated symbol."

     In literature, as in no other field that I can think of, it is frequently more  possible to tell the truth with a liberating lie than it is to tell it by sticking to the facts.  That is why it is a novice's mistake to excuse one's self for a poorly written piece of poetry by blurting out, and Heaven forgive  us all for making this mistake at one time or another, "But that's the way it R-e-e-e-e-ly happened!"  I hide my own face in shame here for the boyish Mr. Bob of decades past.

     More thoughts, though, on your part, Grinch?  Very interesting so far.  Best from here in LA, BobK.
Grinch
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5 posted 01-29-2008 05:05 PM       View Profile for Grinch   Email Grinch   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Grinch


quote:
Babbage is uncomfortable with this, and in all likelihood didn't understand symbolic discourse all that well


That‘s a little harsh, Babbage showed sufficient poetic knowledge in his letter to Tennyson to at least suggest that your assumption is incorrect, but concentrating too much on Babbage won’t get us very far. Any novice for instance could explain the lines as not so much a statement of fact but a claim of “like for like” replacement and that Babbage’s extra sixteenth didn‘t need to be referenced.

quote:
In literature, as in no other field that I can think of, it is frequently more possible to tell the truth with a liberating lie than it is to tell it by sticking to the facts.


Does that include facts in literature like those in the Bible, stories that we are told “R-e-e-e-e-ly happened!"

Balladeer
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6 posted 01-29-2008 10:25 PM       View Profile for Balladeer   Email Balladeer   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Balladeer's Home Page   View IP for Balladeer

Well, if songs need to be more accurate, the first thing that needs to be done is eliminate the ones dealing with "broken hearts", since hearts don't actually break. Ella will never be able to sing of "crying a river" any more and forget about Alley-Oop since we all know that humans and dinosaurs did not inhabit the earth at the same time.

In other words...gimmee a break!
Essorant
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7 posted 01-29-2008 10:54 PM       View Profile for Essorant   Email Essorant   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Essorant's Home Page   View IP for Essorant

Consider saying something such as "sea-steed" instead of "ship".  Could this kenning work without the very literal term "sea"?  Not really.  It needs that part in order to direct the mind to a very literal and important association.  How then can it get away with saying "steed" and still refer accurately to a ship, when a ship is not really a steed?   That is because the manner of accuracy in the second element is not based on just the ship, but on a likeness of the ship to a steed.  Therefore, it does have accuracy, but in a way of comparing and generalizating, not just mechanically listing physical details.  Not every accuracy need to live up to physical specifications in order to be accurate, but accuracy also involves comparison, qualities, emotional associations, and generalizations, appearances, etc.  "Sea-steed" works poetically because it directs our mind to the "sea" but then imaginatively refers to what the ship has likeness to, a steed, but still truly refers to a ship.  


Bob K
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8 posted 01-29-2008 11:43 PM       View Profile for Bob K   Email Bob K   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Bob K

Dear Grinch,

          " Does that include facts in literature like those in the Bible, stories that we are told “R-e-e-e-e-ly happened!"

     If you think that's what I really mean, I suspect you wouldn't be asking me.  You can follow the disjunct on that conclusion from the context in which I make my point.  I don't intend to annoy you, Grinch; I have included myself in the silliness, though I do like to think that I've progressed to new and more spectacular silliness as I grow older.

     My memory is not what it once was.  I've been saying that since I was eighteen, and it's always been true, but if you'll forgive me getting some of the details wrong, I'll try giving you an example from Herman Hesse.  I think it's from The Glass Bead Game.  The speaker at one point casually drops into the conversation, "The last person who knew everything died in 1605."

     The speaker, I think, even goes so far as to give (or make up, for all I know; I hope the speaker's made it up) the name of this scholarly paragon.  This is a complete lie. Nobody has ever known everything, ever, or even come close to it, no matter how limited the pool of knowledge was.  And there is simply no better way from Hesse to characterize the speaker, the era from which he speaks, that world, our world and our own than to have the speaker say exactly that thing at that time.  That lie creates the complete truth of that particular scene with a simple gesture.  Hesse's ability to make that sort of gesture is probably what earned his the Nobel in literature.  "An aged man is but a paltry thing,/ a tatttered coat upon a stick, save soul clap its hands and sing..."  Babbage could quite correctly have noted that souls and hands don't go well together, and that coats don't sing very well.  

    Baggage said no such thing. It's unfair of me to put such words in his mouth.  It's perfectly acceptable to write poetry without such tropes if you chose, as you well know.
In fact, since you seem to be pushing for such an intellectual position, It might be an interesting experiment for you to try a few poems that avoided many of these things you seem to find objectionable.

     This really is how poets learn things about poetry.  Rather than carrying this out of a purely theoretical level, why not see if we can't get the exact specifics of what you object to down on paper?   Then you and/or others of us who have an interest can take a shot at your hypothetical new form and see how well we can make it work.  We might get some interesting poems out of it.  What do you think?

     More interesting all the time, Grinch!  Bob K.
    

TomMark
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9 posted 01-30-2008 12:32 AM       View Profile for TomMark   Email TomMark   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for TomMark

Grinch, I believe the story in the Bible and I think that a poet shall write whatever he wants and imagine as fancy as possible. Why shall a poet care about what a sientist says if the poem is talking about fact or not? For all published scientific papers, above 80% can not be repeated at all let along some are really intentionally faked data? so why? it is the dream brought out the shape of phenol ring. Ya know.
TomMark
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10 posted 01-30-2008 12:34 AM       View Profile for TomMark   Email TomMark   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for TomMark

Grinch, I believe the story in the Bible and I think that a poet shall write whatever he wants and imagines as fancy as possible. Why shall a poet care about what a scientist says if the poem is talking about fact or not? For all published scientific papers, above 80% can not be repeated at all let along some are really intentionally faked data. So why? It was the dream that brought out the shape of phenol ring. Ya know. The DREAM
Stephanos
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11 posted 01-30-2008 01:46 AM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

One can say "I was so hungry I could have eaten a horse".  And while that may not be strictly accurate, we all know what is meant, and wouldn't consider that person dishonest.

One question:  Why the pedantry of absolute accuracy, when we don't even communicate from day to day in that manner?  Personally I think strict accuracy would be boring (and impossible BTW -the temperature doesn't really 'rise', and no one can 'lose' their temper-).  There's quite a difference between lying and lilting.    

And about believing or not-believing the trustworthiness of Bible, I'll consider the charge of being gullible, if you'll consider the possibility of being obdurate.    

Stephen
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12 posted 01-30-2008 03:58 AM       View Profile for Bob K   Email Bob K   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Bob K

Dear Stephanos,

           Alas, I cannot speak for Grinch.  Obdurate fits fairly well here a fair amount of the time, though I don't consider you gullible.  You would seem very difficult to gull and from what I've seen of your prose, quite willing to grant the loyal opposition what you believe to be their justly earned due.

     Your beliefs are honestly held, and while I don't share all of them, I believe the process by which you arrived at them was reasonable.  You weren't duped, fooled or gulled.  Your motives are decent and near as I can tell, you don't have a nasty bone in your body.  You might at times want to sign up for obdurate as well, but there have been times and places when obduracy has been called integrity with a certain amount of justification.

     It may be we have different notions about how and where the bible was written and how it was assembled, though I don't even know that.  Grinch seems to feel that taking some of the biblical stories literally leads to problems such as the ones he was talking about earlier.
My disagreement with him is more along the lines you were voicing.  I had hoped to avoid the notion of taking the biblical text as literal, since it tackles the sort of issues you point out so tellingly in your last posting above as well as more serious disagreements about the nature of fact and revelation.

     If the bible at some point uses a metaphor that's the ancient hebrew equivalent of "I'm so hungry I could eat a horse," for example, it lands us in trouble because we know exactly what the bible means to be saying there in the same way we know what you or I would mean to be saying if we said the same thing:  The equivalent of, Boy, I sure am ravenous!

     I don't know what a belief in biblical literalism does to an understanding that seems so clear in a non-biblical context.  All in all, it makes me curious about what might be possible by trying some poetry without this sort of ornament, just by staying very descriptive and literal.
Thoughts, Stephanos;anybody?
TomMark
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13 posted 01-30-2008 10:42 AM       View Profile for TomMark   Email TomMark   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for TomMark

Hi, Grinch, being a great fan of Dylan Thomas, how do you use his poems which you are all familiar with answer your own question?
Stephanos
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14 posted 01-30-2008 12:24 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

BobK:
quote:
You might at times want to sign up for obdurate as well


Yes, I'm stubbornly sure of that myself.    

quote:
You weren't duped, fooled or gulled.  Your motives are decent and near as I can tell, you don't have a nasty bone in your body.


Perhaps YOU are the gullible one, then.  lol.

quote:
All in all, it makes me curious about what might be possible by trying some poetry without this sort of ornament, just by staying very descriptive and literal.

It think that it would cease to be poetry the minute you insist upon hyper-literalism.  You could make a poem (more likely) that would poke fun at the insistence upon cold calculative language.  That might be worth a try.    

Stephen
Grinch
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15 posted 01-30-2008 01:42 PM       View Profile for Grinch   Email Grinch   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Grinch


quote:
In fact, since you seem to be pushing for such an intellectual position


That’s an odd statement, I’m not pushing for anything, or haven’t so far, apart from explaining why I thought Babbage’s observation taken as a critique of Tennyson didn’t stand up to much scrutiny, I simply quoted two examples and asked a couple of questions.

If you’d like my opinion though here it is:

We, as readers, accept a certain amount of fictional embellishment or poetic license in literature that expresses ideas or notions as fact, generally this acceptance occurs in works whose main focus isn’t to educate but to entertain. However at some point, when enough deviation from fact or reality is reached the work is re-categorised as fiction, that is apart from one piece of literature that contains enough fiction to put any Harry Potter book to shame yet which is still accepted by some as absolute fact.

Why do you think that is?

Stephanos
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16 posted 01-30-2008 04:23 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

What piece of literature would that be Grinch?

Stephen
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17 posted 01-30-2008 04:31 PM       View Profile for Grinch   Email Grinch   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Grinch


On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life

Stephanos
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18 posted 01-30-2008 05:41 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

You took the words right out my mouth!

Seriously, I would be inclined to agree with your joke had Darwin not been so cautiously agnostic in his presentation of his theory.


And BTW, I think Charles was being a bit too poetic and fanciful when he put the word "favored" in his rather lengthy title.



Stephen
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19 posted 01-30-2008 05:53 PM       View Profile for Grinch   Email Grinch   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Grinch


quote:
I would be inclined to agree with your joke had Darwin not been so cautiously agnostic


It wasn’t a joke Stephen, and even if Darwin was cautiously agnostic does that make the facts he presents any less fictitious?

Stephanos
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20 posted 01-30-2008 06:21 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Are you recanting your espousal of Evolutionary theory?  I find it difficult to think you were earlier referring to Darwin's book, but okay.

Stephen

Grinch
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quote:
Are you recanting your espousal of Evolutionary theory?


Yes, or to be more precise I’m suspending it for arguments sake.

Huan Yi
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22 posted 01-30-2008 07:52 PM       View Profile for Huan Yi   Email Huan Yi   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Huan Yi

.


“po•et•ic li•cense

noun  

Definition:
  
freedom to disobey writing conventions: deliberate misuse of or disregard for the normal rules of fact, style, or grammar by a writer or speaker in order to achieve a special effect"


Pathetic Fallacy . . .

Propaganda . . .

“If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,---
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.”

Wilfred Owen

.
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23 posted 01-30-2008 08:12 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Grinch,

what was your argument again, exactly?

Stephen
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24 posted 01-30-2008 08:46 PM       View Profile for TomMark   Email TomMark   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for TomMark

Shall poets be lectured by scientists? no.

May I borrow a thread here, Ron
cause' they are smooth and strong
Fixed by Balladeer's free verse
I will string the light into a song----(ah, light does have characters of both particle and wave)

Let the lady Universe to wear around
My,my, my,
are you expecting again
before he is delivered headlong?


[This message has been edited by TomMark (01-31-2008 02:05 PM).]

 
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