the world of the poem


Poetic Diction as Inappropriate Language
By Mary Oliver

“Poetic diction is language in which all freshness is gone, from which credibility has long vanished, in which ‘the edge is off.’ The actual forming of the world of the poem in the imagination, can’t happen when poetic diction is used because the words or images are, simply, out of electricity. They are no longer functional words or images-instead they merely serve as points of reference to tell us what kind of thing is meant. They are stand-ins for a real thing that is not there. When we hear them we don’t respond: we only go through the old gestures of an accustomed response. And nothing kills a poem more quickly-for the poem, if it works at all, works as a statement that is experienced by the imagination, eliciting real rather than conditioned responses…It is a collection of real clunkers. It is language that is stale, mirthful when it does not mean to be, and empty. Avoid it.”

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