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Poem as machine

Nick BarrNick Barr
3 upvotes by Quora User, Arsène Hodali, and Quora User.
“To make two bald statements: There’s nothing sentimental about a machine, and: A poem is a small (or large) machine made of words. When I say there’s nothing sentimental about a poem I mean that there can be no part, as in any other machine, that is redundant.

Prose may carry a load of ill-defined matters like a ship. But poetry is the machine which drives it, pruned to a perfect economy. As in all machines its movement is intrinsic, undulant, a physical more than a literary character…”

This from William Carlos Williams, in his Introduction to The Wedge, which I encountered via Al Filreis.

I wonder what WCW’s idea of a machine was in 1944. In 2013 we don’t think of machines as not having redundancies. When I look at the back of my TV I see a lot of stuff I don’t need, for example.

In engineering, redundancy has become desirable in many cases. Is this kind of redundancy the same kind that WCW is talking about? Are failover systems “sentimental”?

In what ways is a poem like or not like an algorithm or a snippet of code? Code can certainly be redundant; snooty programmers shit-talk each other’s code all the time. Kind of like snooty poets…

And in this sense, it doesn’t really matter that WCW is wrong when he says machines cannot contain redundancies. The topic just changes from “what a poem is” to “what should a poem be.”

If you embrace the definition of a poem as a kind of a machine, then doesn’t a beautiful poem have the same qualities that beautiful code has? And isn’t one of those qualities efficiency, ie., a lack of redundant parts?


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