Wednesday, 5 August 2009

To Connote or Not to Connote

Originally posted on my old Tripod blog on Saturday, 14 April 2007

It is not often that I’m quoted, so when I came across George Szirtes 2007 StAnza Lecture and saw that he’d quoted the following statement (which I’d made on an online poetry forum last year) I was quite flattered until I continued reading and saw his response to it. The quote from me is:

‘I don’t think there is such a thing as difficult poetry, only poetry that connotes or denotes. The former is always considered difficult by opponents of it. The Waste Land is more connotative than a Simon Armitage poem, for instance, that is why The Waste Land is seen as difficult.’

His response to it is:

‘I am not sure how this writer can draw a sharp distinction between connotation and denotation in any speech, let alone poetry. Connoting and denoting are simultaneous processes.’

Semantically and cognitively, connoting and denoting may be simultaneous processes but their creative usage in poetry necessarily modifies to some extent the balance Szirtes observes. If this were not the case then literary criticism would not be as problematic as it is.

Besides, most readers would, I’m sure, agree that The Waste Land is more connotative than an Armitage poem. This is not to say that Armitage’s poems do not connote; the difference is in the extent that they do when compared with The Waste Land.