a person a face
to represent in outline
from one side
to be defined in outline
against a background
I found Bernstein’s method of poetry profiling overwhelming; it is “limitless” in a way that actually can be restrictive. We can add and add terms to his list until we end up reducing the work to our own personal dictionaries. I wonder if I would have seen it this way if the word had not been “profile” or if I had not thought of how there is something off and restrictive about that word. Lately I’ve been interested in how the definition/history/sound of a word affects it in practice; how we can use definitions to understand how the body is systematically, but mostly physically/mentally defined/confined. So before reading the instructions for the profile, I pulled phrases and synonyms from a few definitions of “profile” and came away with the poem above.
from one side
to be defined
Bernstein uses a list for his poetry profile. This list is quite expectant of the poem/the poet and our reading of each. It posits that there are some (many) characteristics or features of a poem. Are these necessities? I know he’s not saying each poem has to be understood under each and every one of these terms, but a list—
below the other
It’s definitely important to frame work (especially “difficult” work) or else we’d have no access point–no lens through which to approach it. However, most of Bernstein’s list is related to technique. His 1-10 numbering system is odd; it’s scoring for effectiveness. What does effectiveness say about subjectivity? While we all end up with different ratings independent of each other, we have been made to understand numbers as absolute.
Another question about Bernstein’s list is whether it puts “difficult” poetry into categories that these poets are often trying to escape from. When I read poetry, I’ve thought of the process more as collecting. Rather than profile or outline—seeking out preconceived categories/definitions/terms—collecting is more of a collaborative process. It’s accessing a collective consciousness—being in the act of taking and giving simultaneously. We can collect words and note omissions and pay attention to the feelings that are lived within us personally while at the same time examining the text for what the poet has made an effort to convey.
Collecting individual words or lines of interest and looking at them together–even while temporarily ignoring the rest of the poem—often yields a type of understanding that I would not get looking at the whole. Collecting is an act of separating–of parsing through. Bernstein’s profiling feels like an intrusion on the poet and the page—tracking exactly where religion, gender, anger, pain crop up when the religion could be the existence of the poem, the gender could be an absence, the pain could be the poem itself.