Paul Vermeersch Considers Intent


It seems that poet and editor Paul Vermeersch has been following the reviewing fiasco and has decided to throw his own opinion into the hat. Thus far his argument seems to engage more with the nature of criticism and the actual text of a book than the person of the author or reviewer. When a review strays from this he sees it as lacking in good critical practice. Vermeersch’s take on the idea of authorial intent is much as I see it: not about getting in the writer’s head (which is inevitably impossible), but assessing the work’s message, meaning, and purpose as presented in the text itself. The intent of a well written work should be discernable and supported by the writer’s craft, style, technique, and creativity. How these are used, or misused, can be assessed, not what magical series of thoughts (what s/he was “trying to do”) had circled in the author’s head at the time of writing.

Poetry is more than mere building blocks; it’s communication, and all communication has a purpose, which to say it has intent. In critical discourse, engaging with “intent” has more to do with understanding how the poetry works within its given mode, understanding how a text has been assembled and reading it with an eye towards understanding its purpose, its message, and its content. For example, one would not (should not) measure a poem by E.E. Cummings with the same material yardstick one would use to measure a poem by Robert Frost, or whichever two dissimilar poets you might choose. The two poets have a different ethos, a different project, a different way of communicating, a different “intent” that is expressly manifest in their work.

Anyway, quite a good post that I recommend you read if you haven’t yet seen it. You can find the entire post here.


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