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This article is taken from PN Review 37, Volume 10 Number 5, March - April 1984.

The Meaning of Poetry (translated by Clare Sheppard) Jean Follain

My friend Francis Ponge often used to speak haphazardly about poetry at gatherings of the 'Tel Quel' group and on one such occasion tried to explain the meaning of poetry with this concrete example. He said: 'You are in the streets of a large town, newspapers have just arrived hot from the press - important news - the assassination of a great statesman. You rush to pick one up, agog at this news and overcome with the desire to know more. If, at the very moment you grab hold of the newspaper, you are not equally aware of the smell of fresh printer's ink and the scent of the trees above your head, it's tantamount to not feeling this thing called poetry.' This is the gist of what Ponge said.

This being the case one is delighted at the variety of forms poets choose to write in. Traditional forms may be quite as valid as poems composed without such restraints. I don't much care for the expression 'free verse' which seems to me equivocal. Even if a poem doesn't obey conventions it is shaped by rules and forms of its own which bring it to life.

I don't want to systematize unduly but I do think that there are two types of poetry, two extreme types that is to say, between which one finds any number of intermediate types. On the one hand there is extravagant poetry, and on the other the poetry of concentration. ...


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