23 November 2012 | Draft
Multivocal Poetic Discourse Emphasizing Improvisation
Clarification of possibilities for the future
- / -
Improvisation in poetic debate
-- Poetic discourse
as a lost art
-- Lost archetype?
in Islamic cultures
Examples of poetic interaction
-- Improvisation in oral poetry | Invective
poetry | Folk
-- Interactive dialogue
| Framework for clarification
of "poetic debate"
Towards an imaginative reflection on possible "Rules of Poetic Engagement"
-- Collaborative aesthetics
-- Practical concerns
of possible "rules"
-- Rhythm and rhyme
Clarification of debate
| Poetic justice
The contents of this document originally appeared as sections within Poetic Engagement with Afghanistan, Caucasus and Iran: an unexplored strategic opportunity? (2009). These sections are presented separately here since together they also constitute an appropriate annex to a more recent document in which the possibilities of poetic discourse are further developed (Enactivating Multiversal Community: hearing voices in the global wilderness, 2012). Some of these possibilities have also been discussed in Enabling a 12-fold Pattern of Systemic Dialogue for Governance (2011). The argument has been subsequently further developed in Improvisation in Multivocal Poetic Discourse: Basque lauburu and bertsolaritza as catalysts of global significance (2016).
Improvisation in poetic debate
Poetic discourse as a lost art: The argument
in what follows emphasizes improvisation
rather than recital of poetry previously prepared. This does not
preclude insertion into the discourse of prepared verses, possibly selected
from classic poems. But if they have to be read -- not having been memorized
-- this is already an indication of lack of the spontaneity
essential to interactive debate, responsive both to the other contributors
and to any emergent aesthetic synthesis. This mode may indeed
call for an
unusual combination of skills,
although these have been a part of the poetic tradition -- especially in
Islamic cultures. The argument assumes that, given the strategic potential, people
with poetic skills in a context of improvisation could be sought and encouraged
in these abilities -- as with so many other skills that require
development, as with strategic negotiation itself.
It is unfortunate that the extensive literature on terms
like "poetic discourse" rarely if ever signifies any sense of actual
parties using that mode -- even when the discourse is designed to enable
social change. Such terms, implying such interaction, might be said to have
been appropriated in order deliberately to disguise the fact that the discourse
is unilateral from poet -- typically in written form, but occasional as a
recitation -- to a listener, or more typically a reader. There is an assumption
of assymetry in that the poet's aesthetic skills are assumed to be greater
than those of the essential passive listener. Curiously this echoes the manner
in which authorities, such as national leaders, engage in "dialogue" with
citizens through televised "fireside chats" (possibly themselves pre-recorded).
would seem to be no
term that identifies unambigiously any form poetic discourse in the moment
between equal parties.
Rather the poet is assumed to have prepared the poem for later recital or
publication and that any "dialogue" is a virtual one in which the
poet imagines a listener and the reader imagines that the poem engenders the
presence of the poet. The situation is somewhat different in some tribal folk
traditions where one poet indeed responds to another. However it is then unclear
whether the responses -- typically in the modes of panegyric (glorification)
or diatribe (invective) -- are effectively "cut and paste" exercises
using remembered verses as appropriate in an essentially defensive exercise
of tribal self-aggrandisement. In effect one poet "blasts" another
competitively in an exercise in one-upmanship --
a mode well-echoed in international strategic debate.
Use of a term like "poetic discourse" then tends to obscure recognition
debate" is actually a lost art, although "poetical rhetoric"
naturally implies use of a degree of poetry in the phrases used in
the prose form of the rhetoric of the debating parties. Insight into when
"rhetoric" is so impregnated with poetry as to be understood as
"poetic debate" is again not a focus of attention. A feature of
art" is that this unfortunate misapplication of terminology disguises
the fact that whilst students may be taught to read and
appreciate poetry, to recite it, and possibly to write it, there is no sense
in which they are expected to acquire skills to engage with each other through
poetry -- improvised spontaneously in response to content formulated in the
Curiously this lost art is again a reflection of discourse on vital
strategic matters in formal international arenas. There, typically, a speech
is prepared for "recital" -- and printed copies may even have been
distributed to the audience. Any speeches in response may have been similarly
prepared and distributed (if only to facilitate the task of "simultaneous
between languages). The speeches may not even be designed to respond to each
other but only to a predefined theme. Opposing speeches are even known to have
been written by the same speechwriter. Any passionate sense of suffering, or
appeal to larger value frameworks, is then a rational construct (at best decorated
with poetic flourishes). Any written outcome of the event may also have been
scripted and agreed in advance -- transforming the whole exercise into a piece
The analogous condition in the case of "poetic discourse" tends
to avoid response to a contrary perspective or -- if it is represented physically
or by implication -- again takes the form of verses prepared in advance and
not in response to those presented in the moment. Provocatively, at a time
of financial crisis when the inter-institutional lending of "values" has frozen,
it might be asked whether
the failure of poets to lend and borrow aesthetic values in a fruitful pattern
of interaction does not exemplify that challenge at an archetypal level.
Poetic engagement: In his analysis of the aesthetic theories
of Hegel, Heidegger, Kant, and Habermas, John McCumber (Poetic
Interaction: language, freedom, reason, 1989) comments that:
Poetic interaction is nothing more than interaction in which the hearer
of an utterance, rather than its speaker, determines its meaning -- and does
so because the utterance is... either irredeemably ambiguous or otherwise
anomalous. Poetic interaction is thus an elementary form of situating reason,
in that it is the initial form out of which such reason develops. (p. 22).
However, following this analysis, he argues that:
But my narrative cannot end here, for it is also the story of how poetic
interaction became lost -- theoretically occluded and practically proscribed.
The metaphysical prescriptions of Aristotelian thought occluded poetic interaction
altogether.... Philosophy and other sciences... could make no use of poetic
utterances... poetic interaction could not even be recognized as an independent
form. (p. 400)
In a useful review of these issues, Chad Lykins (The
Practical and the Poetic: Heidegger and James on Truth, Chrestomathy,
2003) concludes that:
James believes the very desire for a more primordial account of truth is
rooted in the practical, psychological need for novelty. Heidegger thinks
that to reduce poetic engagement to a form of practical engagement is to
forget the essence of the former and mistake it for the essence of the latter.
James holds that if one wants to get at poetic engagement, then one ought
search in the places from which it actually emerges, 'the muckiness' of
practical engagement.... The poetic engagement that James and Heidegger seek
to preserve emerges as an answer to practical needs, not as proof that those
needs presuppose a necessary foundation. While Heidegger argues in vain that
practical engagement presupposes deeper structures, James demonstrates that
the very concept of a deeper structure emerges from our practical needs for
rationality and poetic engagement
Is this confusion the fundamental reason why the strategies of
governance, articulated with "reason", have proven to be so boring, sterile
and unfruitful -- especially in response to situations especially characterized
Lost archetype?: Other than through the
expression of audience appreciation, is
conventional poetry now to be understood as a non-interactive art
form, even elitist? See discussion by Maureen N. McLane (On
the Use and Abuse of "Orality" for Art: reflections on romantic and
late Twentieth-Century poiesis, Oral Tradition, 2002), although
this does not highlight improvisation..
where are the "poets" that can "think on their feet"
(creatively), in the "heat of the moment" (strategically), and
in response to the existential challenge of "the other" (fruitfully)? If
poetry is to offer any guidance to debate of higher quality, then there is
a need for poetic discourse and debate to practice skills it might expect
others to adopt in some measure. Detecting traces of such skills and their
practioners is a first step.
It is unfortunate, given the archetypal models they represent, that neither The
Glass Bead Game (1943) of Hermann
Hesse, nor the Seven
Days in New Crete (1949) of Robert
Graves offers indications
as to how such an interaction might ideally function.
Medieval Europe: Unfortunately the vital
possibility of this process is obscured by widespread use of the phrase "poetic
debate" to denote "debate
about poetry". A less confusing term "debate
poetry" is clearer -- an early form being known as conflictus.
A review of this tradition in Europe is provided by Emma Cayley
and Dialogue, 2006). Cayley herself distinguishes:
poetry" as referring to the genre itself
- "poetic debate" as being a more fluid term that encompasses both
"debate poems", and "debate about poetry"
- "poetic encounter" as relating to her concept of a "collaborative
debating community" in the sense that it might both refer to poetic responses
(brought about through the encounter), or to the encounter itself, whether
a textual or human one.
Clearly some "poetic
have been pre-scripted, and performed (or simply read) as set pieces, rather
than improvised by genuine opponents in response to genuinely controversial
positions they upheld.
The terminology does not help to distinguish these various forms or even any
"poetry about a debate".
One insightful description of the interesting variant is that provided by
John M. Hill, et al (The Rhetorical Poetics of the Middle Ages: reconstructive
polyphony, 2000) quoting Jon Whitman (Hebrew
University of Jerusalem):
The adversaries [in a poetic debate] share a common frame of reference,
that on some level they both contribute to a single community. Indeed, one
of the salient features of the poetic debate is its effort to show contraries
complementing, rather than simply opposing, each other, a feature that leads
many debates to end either without a clear "winner" or with some
kind of reconciliation... A more complex cosmological approach to the strategy
of interdependence, based on broader philosophic sources and principles, will
develop by the twelfth century, but already in the poetic debate, there is
a constant tendency to turn metaphoric figures into metonymic terms of a larger
The medieval courts of Europe were entertained not only by a male troubadour but
occasionally by a female trobairitz --
known to have engaged in poetic debate together. In the Provençal
literature of France, the partimen is a poetic
debate, but it differs from the tension in so far that the range of
debate is limited; in the first stanza one of the partners proposes two alternatives;
the other partner chooses one of them and defends it, the opposite side remaining
to be defended by the original propounder.
Dialogue in Islamic cultures: Potentially of special relevance to the strategic
challenge is the understanding of the process associated with the Arabic term munatharah through
its various associations:
- as theory building, whereby an individual introduces his/her theory and
others comment on its strengths and deficiencies (Abbas Ali. Organizational
development in the Arab world. Journal of Management Development,
- in relation to "Munatharah ma' tantheem al-jihad al-islami",
a recording, widely available on the internet, of a controversial debate
Debate between Sheikh Nassir Addeen Al-Albaani and a supporter of "The
Islamic Jihaad Organization")
- as descriptor of appropriately respectful conditions for debate, notably
as envisaged as calling for the re-creation of the classical majalis,
where people would sit and exchange conflicting views in the spirit of collegiality
and the common search for meaning (Mohammed Arkoun, Conference on Cultural
Diversity and Islam, 1998)
- as a form of controversial debate (Sheikh Al-Shanqiti, Art of Jadal
and Munatharah) -- argument and controversy (referenced in The
Counterfeit Salafis: deviation of the Counterfeit Salafis from the methodology
of Ahlul Sunnah Wal-Jama'a by Tariq Abdelhaleem)
- as a debating method that strengthens ijtihad,
namely the process of making a legal decision by independent interpretation
of the legal sources, the Qur'an and the Sunnah. The opposite
of ijtihad is taqlid,
It would appear that munatharah is best understood as an appropriate
mode of debate whose nature may be notably modified if the focus is theological,
secular or a form of literary entertainment. Although he argues that, as such, munatharah "has
almost completely disappeared", Abbas Ali (Business
and Management Environment in Saudi Arabia, 2008, p. 190) provides
a very helpful distinction, in the light of facilitation possibilities in corporations,
between the complementary set of 5 Arab debating styles of which munatharah is
- Mudarasa or Munagasha (spirited debate): a means to stimulate
discussion, generate better ideas, and develop new perspectives. Seemingly
this is now only to be found in traditional informal Dewan, when there is
call for debate on a particular subject...
- Muthakrha, or specific goal-oriented arrangements that will be
the subject of intensive mudarasa.
- Murajaha, a process in which the facilitator summarizes critical
points (of a mudarasa) but also highlights interrelationships and
synergy in offering a synthesis
- Mudardha, in which competing ideas are introduced by designated
or volunteer individuals, then to be priotitized and steered in ways that
lead to relevant and practical perspectives. In its common use as a form
of poetic debate by informal group, each participant then picks up from the
end of the previous one; the challenge being to recite a verse which starts
with a letter with which the previous contributor finished. In this way meaning
may continue to be built through the succession of verses.
- Munatherah (or, more commonly, Munatharah), is then understood
to be a theory building, whereby an individual introduces his/her theory
and others comment on its strengths and deficiencies. This method tends to
be restricted to use by people of special authority or skill.
As Ali notes, all methods have been used in traditional Islamic culture and
have helped, to some extent, in maintaining cultural transition. He considers
their utility in organizational development should not be underestimated. As
such they may call attention to the need for a different facilitation style
Perspectives on Management and Organization, 2005, p. 225). What is
not clear from his focus on dialogue among executives is the manner in which
these forms are reinterpreted with respect to either theological or poetic
discourse -- as an art form (Sheikh Al-Shanqiti, Art of Jadal and Munatharah).
Needless to say there is little indication of their relevance to the conflicted
dialogues in the Middle East.
It would be interesting to explore any influence that such processes had,
through the occupation of Spain by the Moors, on the development of debate
in Europe -- notably the poetic style of debate of the 14th century, as documented
by Emma Cayley (Debate
and Dialogue: Alain Chartier in his cultural context, 2006).
Examples of poetic interaction
Improvisation in oral poetry: It is to
be expected that oral poetry, whether associated with folk traditions or not,
would offer some degree of insight into interaction between poets in a discourse
mode (Richard Bauman, Verbal Art as Performance, 1984; Ruth Finnegan, Oral
Traditions and the Verbal Arts: a guide to research practices, 1991; John
Miles Foley, How to Read an Oral Poem, 2002). Again however it is
typically far from clear from the terminology when the oral poetry is improvised
-- composed during the recitation -- irrespective of whether this is done in
interaction with one or more other poets.
With regard to improvisation, the Center
for Basque Studies (University of
Nevada) organized a Symposium
Oral Improvisational Poetry (2003) sponsored by the Bernard and Lucie
Marie Bidart Fund. The programme featured
studies of improvisational songs in various cultural traditions, including the
the Judeo-Spanish ballads, the Ibero-American decimas,
the Asturian cante jondo,
the Santanderian trovas,
the Slavic guslari,
the Arabic invectives, and the Basque bertsolariak.
The published contributions (Samuel G. Armistead and Joseba Zulaika, Voicing
the Moment: improvised oral poetry and Basque tradition, University
of Nevada Press, 2005) also mention current traditions in:
- Cuban decimistas, Puerto Rico, San Domingo, Ecuadoran cantores,
payadores, Brazilian cantadores (and repentistas),
Mexican troveros, Uruguayan payadores, Venezuelan galeronistas
- Cretan pytaris,
pronto, Sardinian cantadori,
Balearic glosadores, Andalusian troveros
In his contribution, Samuel G. Armistead (Improvised
Poetry in the Spanish Tradition. 2005) notes:
Such poetry, often involving verbal dueling and mordant invective, has been
cultivated by Hispanic peoples for many centuries. Its origins remain obscure,
but they undoubtedly involve a variety of Mediterranean and Near Eastern
cultural currents... In these poetic contests, known as echarse
person wished all sorts of misfortune, for the most part obscene, upon another,
who replied in similar strain.... Invective poetry, much of it -- originally
at least -- orally composed and some of it undoubtedly improvised on the
spot and as needed, is surely of very ancient origin and is probably worldwide
in distribution. There can, however, be little doubt that Hispanic verbal
dueling is ultimately connected in direct oral tradition to Horace's opprobia
rustica and to an ancient Pan Mediterranean heritage of poetic competition.
These ancient origins were also cited by Maximiano
Oral Poetry in Spain, 2005), describing the
Homeric tradition (of which active traces are curently to be found in Slavic
poetry, known for its relationship to nationalist politics):
This poetic contest had certain rules: whoever started had the right to
choose the subject and his opponent had to answer him, to such an extent
that the latter always remained at the mercy of the former's chosen topic
and subject to his 'attacks'; yet the second one could both answer and counter
attack at the same time, thereby giving rise to a duel of attack and counter
attack that could go on until one of the contestant's strength (and reason)
waned, or until both of them (as was the norm...) declared himself the winner.
As remarked by David R. Olson (From Utterance to Text:
the bias of language in speech and writing, 1977), Trapero
also notes that poetry today is immediately associated with its written form,
whereas written poetry is an extremely modern
phenomenon whose origin is in millennia of oral poetry.
Initially, the medieval literary genre of debates (also known as
"recuesta", "tenso" or "partiment")
became famous, with Provencal troubadours taking the genre to its highest
levels and spreading it throughout Europe. The debate might bring forth real,
flesh and bone, people or instead concern abstract, allegorical beings, to
which human conditions were ascribed. This all took place in a context of
opposites: male/female, love/dislike, wine/water, winter/summer, rich/poor
and so on. (p. 49)
Verbal improvisation of poetry now takes the form of slam in western cultures
(notably described as poetic jousting), involving a degree of enactment of
a recital -- where normally the text is fixed before performance. Poetry
slam is the competitive art
of performance poetry. It originated in the US as
a means to heighten public interest in poetry readings. It has now evolved
into an international art form -- as described by Susan B.A. Somers-Willett
Poetry: Ambivalence, Gender, and Black Authenticity in Slam, 2001; Can
Slam Poetry Matter? Rattle: poetry for the 21st century). See
also: Chris Mooney-Singh, Getting
Out Of The Poetry Ghetto; Poetry and Improv:
A Perfect Match? (2009). Its origins in the Chicago rap culture merit
reflection as suggesting a potentially viable mode for engagement with other
cultures, such as those of Afghanistan. President Barack Obama has spent a significant
period of his professional life in Chicago.
Improvisation is also valued as enabling cultural renewal (James W. Fernandez, Playfulness
and Planfulness: improvisation and revitalization in culture. p. 97-119).
Invective poetry: The above-mentioned compilation (Voicing
the Moment, 2005) also variously drew attention to the the long tradition
of invective poetry.
Armistead, for example, offers as anecdotes:
- an historic incident in the year 912,
during an Hispano-Arab siege of a stronghold,
in which an acrimonious poetic exchange took place between one of the rebels
who hurls down a poetic challenge from inside the fortress, to which a muleteer
instantaneously responds, with a poetically improvised answer
- the exchange of ten-verse decimas across the Mexican-Texan
border in the late nineteenth century
There is an active Arabic hijā' tradition of improvised invective,
diatribe and insult in verse (C. Pellat, 1971; C. Elliott, 1960). One popular
form is naqa'id. This would seemingly
have contributed to the development of the tradition in Ibero-American cultures
(James T. Monroe. Improvised
Invective in Hispano-Arabic Poetry and Ibn Quzman's "Zajal 87".
p. 135-159; Adnan Haydar, The
Development of Lebanese Zajal: genre, meter, and verbal due, 1989).
Various authors discuss modern Arabian improvised invective (S. A. Sowayan, 1985,
1989; G. van Gelder, 1988). Of particular relevance to the current exploration
is the fact that during the 1991 Gulf War, rival radio and television broadcasts,
made use of hijā poetry
-- with Iraqis and Saudis trading poetic insults on a daily basis (Ya'ari and
Freideman, 1991). Pre-Islamic Arabs are known to have hurled curses at
the enemy as they went into combat.
Flyting is a public contest
of extravagant insults, often structured in the form of a poetic joust. It
is similar to African American practice
of freestyle battles and
the historic practice of the dozens.
In Germanic cultures, the convention can be detected earlier, for example
in the confrontation of Beowulf and Unferð in Beowulf. Flytings were a
feature of early Germanic cultures either a prelude to battle or as
a form of combat in their own right. Taunting
songs are part of many cultures predating Scottish flyting, such as Inuit civilization.
A comparable form is to be found in the competitive verses of Japanese haikai.
Folk traditions: It is appropriate to
note that the journal Oral
Tradition (Center for Studies in
Oral Tradition) has an extensive database of readily accessible
articles, in addition to offering sound files from various traditions. Relevant
to this exploration are forms which are notably recognized by terms such as
"poetic wrestling" or "poetic jousting".
Also to be noted, in addition to those
mentioned above, are:
The Persian poetic form of Qasida is unprecedented in Arabic
or New Persian, but it is part of the Middle Persian (Pahlavi) tradition.
The Pahlavic poetic debate Draxt i Asurik shows that this form
of debate has had a long history. Of great potential interest is that the
five debates on record (Monazerat)
are called Arab o 'Ajam (The Arab vs the Persian), Mogh o Mosalman (the
Magian vs the Muslim), Shab o Ruz (the night vs the Day), Neyza
o Kaman (the Spear vs the Bow) and the Asman o Zamin (the
Sky vs the Earth). [more]
- Ironically web resources give unusual prominence to a Palestinian example
(D. G. Sbait, Debate
in the Improvised-Sung poetry of the Palestinians, Asian Folklore
- In the Philippines, balagtasan is
a traditional literary form -- a poetic debate in which two poets engage
each other for about 20 minutes on a designated topic, in versified Tagalog;
another form is dupluhan, a popular poetical debate competition; cancionan is
a form of argument in song and verse, with bantayonan as another
form of poetic debate.
- In Bangladesh, kabigan is a form
of poetic debate.
- In the Mariana Islands, the Kantan
Chamorita is the contemporary name given to traditional call-and-response,
- In Sicily, known as the island of
is a poetic debate between two poets.
- Poetic debate has been a feature of Russian
- In Lebanon, zajal is
semi-improvised and semi-sung form of oral strophic poetry, often performed
as a debate between zajjaali (poets who improvise the zajal).
- Improvisation is central to traditional musical activity in Corsica,
as is the case in many other Mediterranean cultures -- the tour de force being
the chjamí è rispondi,
a spontaneously improvised poetic debate set to a relatively stable melodic
prototype which is nevertheless personalized by each individual singer as
well as being adapted to the shifting stresses of the textual line in the
moment of performance.
- Improvised poetry in Castillian-speaking areas of Spain (Santander,
Murcia, Almerta and Granada), competitively sung in the form of quintillas and decimas as
late as the 1950s.
- Competitive improvisation continues to be practiced in the Canary
Islands in the form of decimas by poets (verseadores)
who, even though semi-literate, spontaneously compose with ease ten-verse
strophes with a fixed rhyme scheme.
- In Chile one singer or poet poses a versifed problem (riddle
or paradox), to which the antagonist must instantaneously supply a poetic
answer. In Ecuador, in one mode one singer provides three verses and the
opponent must provide the fourth. Related practices are known in Galicia (enchoyadas)
and in Portugal -- in the form of challenging songs (cantigas
among two or more contenders. In the Cape Verde Islands,
abusive songs may be sung against each other all evening
- In West Africa the role of poet / praise singer /
wandering musician, known as a griot,
continues to be valued as a repository of oral tradition. Although they may
know many traditional songs, they must also have the ability to extemporize
on current events, chance incidents and the passing scene -- including gossip,
satire, or political comment.
- Amongst the Gikuyu of Kenya (believed
to have originated in West Africa) there is a poetic tradition which
fosters competition among various poets. These have been described as poetic
wrestling matches between various regions -- highly respected as an art form.
- In a detailed report of a politically influential Deelleey poetic
debate in Somalia,
Ali M. Ahad (Could
Poetry Define Nationhood? the case of Somali oral poetry and the nation,
2007) notably states:
The aim of that debate as conceived by its proponents was to rekindle
nationalism and national values versus clan ideology and kinship. The
Deelleey poetic debate was coordinated by one of the modern Somali
poets, the scholar who discovered the metrics of Somali poetry. Although
most of the poets who participated in the debate knew how to read and
write, their poems were in oral form and were tape-recorded. The fixed
rules were that every poet must alliterate his/her poem in D and must
produce the poem in jiifto or maanso genre
How ironic that Somalia should have so recently explored so seriously a political
possibility that less conflict-torn countries have failed to do.
However this initiative should be compared with the commentary, noting the
role of poetry, by Martin Kramer (Arab
Nationalism: mistaken identity, Daedalus,
dialogue projects: In addition to those identified above, and especially
that of the Center for Studies in Oral Tradition, a
variety of projects and initiatives touch on related concerns and merit reflection
on their successes and constraints with respect to the encounter between cultures:
- Dialogue through
Poetry: This initiative has aimed at building a culture of peace and
non-violence through poetry. A UN conference was seemingly held in 2002
to investigate ways to stimulate dialogue among cultures through poetry
using new technologies and international resources. The central focus is
the development of an internet portal for poetry through Poetry
International Foundation in Rotterdam and an organizational structure to facilitate interaction
and events programming. The arguments and cautions of John
for Dialogues of Cultures Conference, New York, United Nations)
merit careful attention
Culture in Europe (1300-1500), directed by Emma Cayley
at the Centre for Medieval Studies (University of Exeter)
- Poetic Dialogue Project: an
exhibition of collaborative works by artists and poets
Royaumont has developed a creation program devoted to slam, and
the way it relates to music and language. Poetry slam normally takes the
form of competitive poetry recital of previously written work. The initiative
focuses on slam
/ improvisation. The initiative explores the poetic and
rhythmical worlds of slam in an innovative way, creating a space where the
sound-word and music model each other.
Whilst not directly relevant to this exploration,
there have been numerous international initiatives to enable poetry in different
ways (as recorded in the Yearbook of International Organizations).
Curiously an unusual proportion of them have not proved to be viable.
Framework for clarification of "poetic debate":
The following table could notably be enriched by the insights of John Miles Foley
|Towards a clarification
of connotations of the phrase "poetic debate"
to highlight most relevant to socio-political poetic engagement (tentative)
[interactions in the lower right portion of
the table are potentially most significant]
|Degree of improvisation
||Number of active participants in the debate
(possibly simulating alternating voices/views)
|3 or more
|Pre-prepared, set-piece articulation
in poetic form
(possibly allowing for a degree of thematic response to the other
|People exemplifying values
|Constrained improvisation in poetic
theme and possibly positions to be taken; even ritualised within a tradition)
|People exemplifying values
|Constrained improvisation in poetic
(thematic challenge by one participant imposing a theme on
|People exemplifying values
|Improvised, but making spontaneous
use of selected verses from classic poems
(free with thematic focus emerging through interaction)
|People exemplifying values
|Spontaneous poetic improvisation
(free with thematic focus emerging in response to the dynamics of interaction)
|People exemplifying values
This table of course echoes the range of forms of participation in conferences
of any kind -- from reports about them (or about hypothetical events), through
typical presentations of pre-prepared documents, ritualised set-piece dialogues,
to improvisation in response to the thematic content of others. In the case
of "poetic debate" or "poetic dialogue", the possibility
is to heighten the degree of resonance between participants in an improvisation --
to enhance the reverberations of the encounter as a whole. Concrete examples,
such as those cited above from different cultures, could be appropriately positioned
within the table in the light of the precise process implied by the terms currently
used to describe them.
Towards an imaginative reflection on possible "Rules of Poetic Engagement"
The following comments do not adequately take account of the insights to be
obtained regarding the active disciplines of engagement characteristic of the
different folk traditions mentioned above.
Collaborative aesthetics: A form of aesthetic
collaboration may be said to take place through a common inspiration, even
though there is no direct interaction (Lloyd Halliburton,
Symbiosis: Hart Crane and Federico García Lorca, Neohelicon,
December, 2001). The term "poetic collaboration" is widely used to
describe various forms of mutual consultation in the preparation of poetic
works. There may indeed be concern regarding the degree to which the contribution
of one is "flattened"
ar the expense of another or allocated in some overly rational manner. The
challenge is helpfully articulated for only two poets by Lucy Newlyn (Coleridge,
Wordsworth and the Language of Allusion, 2001) who asks what method
do we adopt to describe the interweaving of literary emotional strands in a
relationship so complex? What word do we have for a friendship which was at
once productive and destructive? She comments:
- 'Literary friendship' or 'literary
partnership' are too bland, too general.
- 'Collaboration' and 'mutual influence'
deal only with literary and intellectual content.
- 'Symbiosis' is inaccurate,
given that both writers were in so many ways an emotional liability to
- 'Affinity' does not account for the important differences which emerged
as the relationship unfolded.
- 'Duet' is too choreographed, too organized,
and mutually enhancing.
- 'Duel' plays too much on antagonism.
- 'Dialogue' is
too circumscribed, given that more than two voices can be heard during
the process of any intellectual and emotional exchange.
relationship' is accurate, but cumbersome. (p. xiii, reformatted
Also noted was the "threat of amalgamation" which collaboration involves,
implying a need to avoid the "complete merging of voices" if they were to preserve
their distinct identities. With respect to the two poets, Newlyn notes:
Their divisions, when they acknowledged them, tended either to be rartionalised
as compatibility or transcended by the ideal of a shared vision.... When
the merging of 'compounding' of opposite styles proves impossible, collaboration
is figured as an experiment that has gone wrong. (p. xxxiii)
Missing from the above is the sense in which the poets might be struggling
aesthetically, even existentially and to a far higher degree, with the contrasts
that their respective sensibilities represented. Rather than a "shared vision"
that they held in advance -- and had already agreed upon -- the
question is whether the interaction between their differences enabled the emergence
of a "shared vision" that encompassed those differences without diminishing
their significance -- one that
had not previously been envisaged, namely something new with whose aesthetic
significance they could resonate.
is difficult to locate resources on collaborative aesthetics acknowledging
the above nuances -- where the emphasis is on a common aesthetic outcome and
not primarily on group process or group learning techniques (cf Leveraging
Web 2.0 Technologies: building innovative online learning communities).
Anindita Basu and David Cavallo (Full-Contact
Poetry: creating space for poetic collaboration)
describe a collaborative digital play space for children, written in Squeak,
and developed at the MIT Media Laboratory. A software experiment in computational
poetry, as described by Eric Elshtain and Jon Trowbridge (Gnoetry
0.2 and the Transcendence of the Human Poetic, January 2007), analyzes
how words are used in an extant text and tries to discern patterns. However
it does allow for a degree of interplay:
Gnoetry0.2 also allows for the human end-user to facilitate 'conversations' between
disparate authors and epochs; a conversation enhanced by Gnoetry's ability
to statistically weight the texts during composition. That is, the end-user
may 'ask' that 23% of the time, solutions to the problem of 'haiku,' for
example, be found in Emma; 21.7% in The Custom
of the Country; and so on up
to 100%. This function allows the 'voices' of the texts to be
raised and lowered throughout the composition, much like a do-wop group trading
solos and singing in different harmonies.
on the initiative of Bruno Latour (Why
Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern, Critical
Inquiry, 30, 2),
one initiative by Marsha Bradfield and Jem Mackay (An
Aesthetics of Matters of Concern, Critical Practice, 2008) raises
questions rather than immediately providing answers:
What might a collaborative aesthetics involve? How might it look, feel, taste,
sound, smell? More specifically, what are the possibilities of a collaborative
aesthetics grounded in Latour's notion of 'matters of concern'?
Collaborative creativity: This is the
focus of the Collaborative
Creativity Group within a programme of the United Nations University,
centered at the Maastricht Economic and Social Research and Training Centre
on Innovation and Technology (UNU-MERIT).
The group investigates the
socio-economics of creative collaboration across all domains, but presumably
with relatively little emphasis on the aesthetic creativity of significance
in any strategic poetic engagement regarding a "matter of concern".
It is currently collaborating with the Wikimedia Foundation to undertake a survey
of the Wikipedia process.
Collaborative creativity is clearly a preoccupation of tangible product innovation
(cf Hillevi Sundholm, Henrik Artman
and Robert Ramberg, Backdoor
Creativity: collaborative creativity in technology supported teams,
A focus for such reflection is provided through the PICNIC gathering
which periodically brings together
and disseminates the ideas and knowledge of creators
and innovators, highlighting relevant products and services at the intersection
of media, technology, arts (including poetry) and entertainment.
As a form of collaborative creativity, unfortunately it is possible that
it is precisely what has proven to be viable and practical in the mysterious
success of open
source and related projects (Linux, Wikipedia)
that inhibits recognition of the subtle strategic challenges of cross-cultural
engagement, as in the Middle East. At this point in time these challenges may
well be better represented by the challenges and possibilities of improvised
poetic debate as a reflection of contrasting aesthetic preferences. The aesthetic
considerations, expressed poetically, are then intimately related to issues
of collective identity -- and to challenging differences in ideological perspectives
and their strategic implications.
Such reservations would clearly also apply to optimism regarding the possibilities
intelligence, notably as expressed by Mark Tovey (Collective
Intelligence: creating a prosperous world at peace, 2008). What is
carried by poetry and through poetic debate is subtler than the forms of knowledge
which are the focus of innovative knowledge
Practical concerns: There are particular issues in exploring
the aesthetic possibilities:
- Cultures that highly value aesthetics tend to appreciate style -- possibly
even above substance. Traces of this are to be found in the appreciation
of the speeches of politicians in the West, notably in France, Italy and
Germany. Style may be recognized as indicative of a degree of coherence and
maturity which conventional presentations of "substance" may lack.
Curiously style is a significant factor in urban gang cultures -- however
much the preferred style may be offensive to other cultures.
- Problematic modes of interaction may, to some extent, be fruitfully reframed
as "bad" poetry (or song), namely lacking any attractive qualities
"out of tune"). Avoiding such a possible framing is a challenge
to negotiators -- as a potential stimulus to bad press in an aesthetically
- As is well-recognized, notably in the world of opera, there are major problems
in choreographing the engagement of prima donnas -- whether or not
these are analogous to those experienced in diplomatic encounters and
"managed" there by protocol. What are the necessary aesthetic protocols?
There are of course some with skills in eliciting a degree of order from
what is aesthetic chaos to others -- choreography on the fly.
- To the extent that any exploration focuses on a "conference" of
those interested in this possibility and its implications, there are a range
of concerns with how such an event might itself be organized in practice
as discussed in Proposal
for an Exploratory International Conference: Poetry-making and Policy-making (1993)
- A range of organizational possibilities and precedents have been reviewed
implementation, in A
Singable Earth Charter, EU Constitution or Global Ethic? 2006) notably
a collective process following the logic of crowdsourcing (Participative
Development Process for Singable Declarations Applying the Wikipedia-Wikimedia-WikiMusic
concept to constitutions, 2006)
Characteristics of possible "rules":
- Creative ways of combining useful rules, whatever they might be, with
the possibility of a "no holds barred" approach that would avoid
inhibiting creativity. Indications of how to reconcile these incompatible
approaches might perhaps be obtained from the philosophy and practice of
Eastern martial arts, such as aikido.
- Recognition of viable patterns of improvised poetic dialogue. Indications
regarding such patterns might be obtained from:
All these patterning possibilities together lend themselves to formal
mathematical analysis to identity the range of interactions that might be called upon
in any aesthetic interaction.
- music improvisation, as, for example, with the perspective
of an avant-garde composer (Vinko
Globokar, Drama and Correspondences.
Harmonia Mundi, 20 21803-1) regarding "the principle of mutual psychological
reactions and attempts to 'join' the four participants with each other
and to make them increasingly dependent on each other. There are four
Inspired by jamming in
jazz groups, internalizing the polar tensions between musical score and
improvisation, such possibilities have been used by John
Kao (Jamming: the art and
discipline of business,
1997). A jam session is a musical act where musicians gather and play
(or "jam") without extensive preparation or predefined arrangements.
- the musical material is entirely fixed, but the choice
is left open.
- Each musician possesses only incomplete instructions. In order
to be able to play, each musician must search for missing material
in the performance of the neighbour (pitches from the first, length
from the second, etc) and react to it in different ways: imitate, adapt
himself to it (if need be, further develop), do the opposite, become
disinterested or something else (something 'unheard of').
- The composed material is completely substituted by the description
of the possibility arising from the reactions of the performers
to their neighbours.
- On the last level, it is left up to the
performers whether to cease playing or to continue; for not even
the selection of reactions is now necessary"
- polyphony, whether involving only distinct instrumental
voices or the addition of lyrics in relation to the separate melodic
voices (cf All Blacks of Davos vs All Greens of
Porto Alegre: reframing global strategic discord through polyphony?. 2007)
- multi-participant juggling,
as extensively documented in the form of passing
patterns, which have been extensively documented. A juggling group
can of course shift between patterns and include extra jugglers during
the process, or drop them from the pattern.
- dance, offers both a considerable range of dance
moves (integrated into more complex dance patterns) as well
as the possibility of improvisation (see Glossary
of dance moves).
Any codification of the patterns could be indicative of possibilities
for poetic interaction within groups of different sizes whose contrasting
perspectives were represented by distinct sub-groups. Square
dances provide an example of formalized dance patterns.
- card games, point to a range of possibilities of
interaction between collaborating and competing parties in which "improvisation"
is integrated into game strategy. There are web sites under the theme
"poker poetry". Dave Morice (Poetry Poker:
Misfit Improvisations on Language, Teachers and Writers,
1992, ) describes a strategy that allows
a student to write a poem by playing cards.
- piston engine operation offers a more mechanical insight
into the manner in which a cycle of creative "sparks" can be
used as the motive power of a common vehicle. An engine can have many pistons.
The challenge is to convert the insights from any such technical metaphor
into valuable features of a poetic debate -- each participant functioning
as a "piston" in the creative initiative. In all types of
piston engine the linear movement of the piston is converted to a rotating
movement (via a connecting rod and a crankshaft or by a swashplate);
a flywheel is often used to ensure smooth rotation. The more cylinders
a reciprocating piston engine has, generally, the more vibration-free
(smoothly) it can operate. The power of a reciprocating engine is proportional
to the volume of the combined pistons' displacement.
- Insights from traditional practices of poetic dialogue between several
participants (as noted above with respect to improvised oral poetry, whether
sung or accompanied by music). For example, work on the thriving Basque bertsolaritza is
extensive, as documented by Linda White (Orality
and Basque Nationalism: dancing with the devil or waltzing into the future? Oral
2001). As she notes:
The artists (bertsolariak), often called 'Basque
in competitions broadcast on television and become regional celebrities.
The audience does not need to read Euskara in order to enjoy the 'sport
of words,' as it
is called.... The verses created by the bertsolari must comply with specific
patterns. When aficionados discuss bertsolaritza, such rhyme patterns are
often at the center of their evaluation of an artist's creative production.
To the novice, it can often seem as though these oral artists are faced with
the onerous task of counting rhymes and syllables as they versify. However,
the rhyme patterns and syllable counts per line are an intimate part of the
melody being used for a particular verse, and the music is what makes it
possible for a bertsolari to keep all these schemes in mind...
- Insights from contexts in which there is an appreciation of the "rhythm
of debate" or "rhythm in debate" as in the educational process
in Buddhist philosophy. In mathematical physics, Andrew Warwick (Masters
of Theory: Cambridge and the Rise of Mathematical Physics, 2003)
highlights the unfortunate consequence of the shift from the formal procedure
of a disputation (with the rhythm of public debate between opponent and respondent
to the written examination. Related to this is the significant issue of the
balance between qualitative and quantitative perspectives in any adversarial
assessment process, as discussed by John Danvers (Assessment
in the Arts: qualitative and quantitative approaches):
These differences emerge as the result of the adversarial process of advocacy
and argument that characterises most assessment meetings. This process is
a mixture of negotiation, rational argument and peer pressure, centred on
subjective opinions about the degree to which students have achieved particular
learning outcomes, as manifested in the artwork or texts presented for assessment.
In most assessment meetings there is an alternating pattern of convergence
and divergence of opinions, interpretations, prejudices and insights - energised
by the particular dynamics of the group. However this rhythm of debate and
open-ended exchange is always constrained by the need to arrive at a definitive
single mark, the holy grail of quantitative assessment. In some ways the
process would be much more transparent and informative to the student if
the marks of each assessor were published and a cluster of marks were awarded
for each unit of assessment - not one mark! This would reflect the
variety of evaluations and suggest that the process, and the mark, is conditional
rather than absolute.
- Insights from the tradition of "poetical rhetoric",
aptly introduced in terms of historical understanding of the problematic
relationship between poets and philosophers by Stanley
Republic: A Study, 2005):
The philosopher...uses poetical rhetoric for purposes of persuasion, but
at least his or her rhetoric is informed by the truth....The poet... produces
copies of the items of genesis, or what one could call simulacra (images
of images). The poet thus deludes us into believing that he or she knows
the truth, and this illusory knowledge is more attractive to the general
populace than is the rigorous and genuine truth of philosophy. To make a
long story short, if they are not checked, the poets will become the unacknowledged
legislators of society, thereby usurping a role that ought to be filled by
philosophers. (p. 3)
This matter is of some relevance given the current appreciation of the "poetic
rhetoric" of Barack Obama as President of the USA. However, any implication
that philosophers are especially endowed with the truth is radically undermined
by their own inability to dialogue fruitfully with each other, as noted
by the philosopher, Nicholas
Rescher (The Strife of Systems: an essay
on the grounds and implications of philosophical diversity, 1985).
responded to their distinctly unintegrative conflict by concluding:
For centuries, most philosophers who have reflected on the matter have
been intimidated by the strife of systems. But the time has come to put
this behind us -- not the strife, that is, which is ineliminable, but
the felt need to somehow end it rather than simply accept it and take
it in stride.
It is perhaps the interplay of poetry and philosophy that could be more fruitfully
envisaged, through patterns as suggested below.
- Insights from understandings of "poetic resonance" in
relation to the landscape with which any myth of cultural identity is associated
and cultivated, notably as highlighted in commentaries on José Lezama
Lima's La Expresión Americana (1957) -- who, as
a poet, contrasts North and Latin American understandings that are of
great political significance. For example, William Rowlandson ('Un
mito es una imagen participada', Bulletin
of Hispanic Studies,
Periods of history that fail to awaken in the interpreter the awe of la
imago fail to achieve the poetical resonance that we see characterised
in the historical reconstruction of La expresión americana.
Similarly, la imago itself becomes the animistic heart of the poetic
(and historic) moment... Furthermore,
it is not simply the historical moment that becomes the interactive text to
be interpreted; a similar signifying process takes place converting the espacio
gnóstico that is naturaleza into
the defining text that is paisaje. Much has been written
on this process of transformation from nature to landscape... Nature itself
is the unwritten text that awaits the creative participation of the subject
to transform it into a meaningful entity, and by extension into a cultural
construct.... the epistemological dimension of the creative interpretation
of both landscape and history. The subjective interaction with nature becomes
a hermeneutic process - one of interpreting - and such a process
is integrally linked to the processes by which we gain knowledge.
Such perspectives may be valuable in challenging the assumptions of the foreign
policy of the USA (and the West in general) regarding cultures like those
of Afghanistan (and the Middle East in general).
- Insights from "pattern language", notably as
developed by Christopher
Pattern Language, 1977) as a part of a set of writings, themselves
described as poetical (Jonathan Price, What
Technical Writers Can Learn from Christopher Alexander's Pattern Language,
2001). One of its chapters is entitled The Poetry of the Language.
In introducing the deep nature of patterns, Alexander comments (The
Nature of Order, 2003):
pattern language is a created thing. It is a work of poetry, a work of
art. It is potentially as profound in its way as a building can be.
But there seems to have been no attempts to associate the focus of Alexander's
253 interrelated patterns (see comment)
-- most of which have long been a focus of poetry -- with any attempt
at structuring poetic insight into the pattern they constitute as a whole.
The comment however indicates how the set of phsically-focused patterns
has been used experimentally as a template for the elaboration of 4 additional
sets of patterns (5-fold
Pattern Language, 1984): an abstract variant, a socio-organizational
analogue, a cognitive analogue, and an intra-personal analogue.
- Elucidation of rules consistent with particular musical
genres, if the
improvisation is to take place within some such genre
- In the spirit of experimental poetry in three
dimensions ("3D poetry"), it may be fruitful to explore the possibility
that the Islamic distinction between the poetic forms of eulogy (panegyric)
and denunciation (diatribe) would lend itself to their mapping onto
three dimensional structures (of association and dissociation). The question
is whether participants in a poetic debate could together -- through their
poetic consonance and dissonance -- "build" such memetic constructs,
effectively bridging their differences without denying them. Further to any
such achievement, there is the possibility that they might then transform,
such structures aesthetically into richer poetic constructs involving more
complex resonances between the aesthetic elements. The images below are indicative
of the principle (on the left) and a possible complexification (on the right).
The structure on the right of course recalls features of Islamic architecture
whose principles it reflects (Keith
Patterns: an analytical and cosmological approach, 1999). Either structure
is in effect a three dimensional interweaving of appreciation and criticism
into a mimetic "carpet". In this memetic architecture, there may
be the possibility of poetic epics embodying radical difference appropriately
in what could then be understood as memetic analogues to geodesic
of opposite chirality).
|Indicative design possibilities interrelating
contrasting perspectives in a poetic debate
|Example of tensional integrity (tensegrity) structure
in which aesthetic elements of poetic dissociation (denunciation) might
be indicated by solid, incompressible rods and those of association
(eulogy) might be indicated by linking, tension elements; circuits might
then represent verses interlocking to constitute a larger whole
|Example of aesthetic elaboration of a
in which more complex patterns of association enrich the memetic structure
as a whole, enabling its further transformation or simplification
(image developed using Stella
of a Strategic Pattern Language: a new architecture of values (2008)
The emphasis here has been on enabling skills that combine the following:
- improvisation -- namely composition during recitation, whether or not some
content is derived from classical verses
- interaction with one or more others -- such that each responds to thematic
content and aesthetic parameters introduced by the other
- debate responsive to radically divisive socio-political and ideological
issues -- variously represented by the interactants as "stakeholders" --
namely beyond any emphasis on entertainment or representation
- cultural sensitivity, especially with respect to Islamic reservations
The ambition need only be modest, whatever the potential. It might be fruitfully
framed as a means of engendering a different framework of mutual respect --
independent of other more conventional indicators of strength. Framed in this
way, there is the possibility of more fruitful outcomes, mutually valued.
Given the modest costs associated with this possibility -- compared to other
forms of more physical engagement between cultures -- it is easy to argue that
there is little to lose, with the potential of there being much to gain. It
might be questioned how "serious" is any such initiative. This would
be a matter of collective concern in ensuring that any exploration is fruitful
The argument here is that there is little to lose and the cost of investing
in such possibilities could be low. More intriguing is the poetic interface
with Europe of the cultures by which the West is challenged. Perhaps a cognitive
and policy reframing of the Eurovision approach -- as argued in some
Earth Charter, EU Constitution or Global Ethic? 2006). Certainly there
is scope for work by musicians, poets, songwriters, choirs and strategists
-- with outcomes that might be taken more seriously by wider segments of the
concerned populations than those conventionally envisaged.
Perhaps a more fundamental challenge, to enhance the potential viability,
would be exploration of the relevance of:
- the mnemonic significance of rhythm and rhyme in
enabling long-term retention of complex non-linear patterns of
association. This function
was originally noted with respect to use of saj' in
Arabic speech. In
addition to such a purely mnemonic function is the degree to which such
patterns represent the subtler feedback loops essential to the viability
of the knowledge cybernetics that are a challenge to represent adequately
in prose or in conventional strategic "plans" and agreements.
It is these feedback
loops, implicit in sets of folk tales, that form the identity of any group
and give coherence to it. Hence the importance in any strategic encounter
of engaging through rhyme and rhythm. There is also the possibility that
the binary alternatives of fakhr (glorification) and hijā' (satire,
lampoon, invective) may be in some way associated with positive and negative
feedback loops -- lending themselves to representation together as
in the tensegrity image (above, left), rather than vainly endeavouring to
stress one at the expense of the other (Being Positive
Avoiding Negativity: management challenge of positive vs negative, 2005)..
- a process of autopoiesis as
redefined by Amal Alayan (in a book in preparation) to apply to self-creation,
recreation and renewal, amongst a group who are both poetic and altruistic.
This then takes the form of an evolving, cascading, thematically intertwined
sung epic in relation to change on a collective, bi-national and a global
level. Autopoiesis is envisaged as
a lens and a mechanism for organizing social, cultural and economic change in
the Middle East and in its relationship to the West. For Alayan this approach
is inspired by the Arab phrase Nathama
Al-Shi'r -- poetry as organizing -- inviting
creative new possibilities for more appropriate collective
initiatives of every kind.
Indeed, given the common root (auto-poiesis), is there not the possibility
that poets could engender larger memetic structures through a dynamic interaction
whose nature is yet to be discovered? A relevant set of insights is perhaps
offered by Anthony Blake (The
Supreme Art of Dialogue: structures of meaning, 2008). The challenge
lies in the ability of a group of poets to introduce moderating processes
to correct for individual tendencies to neglect the collective product --
a skill which is vital in musical improvisation in groups. Arguably poets
need seriously to internalize collectively the challenge they face in working
Of interest is the manner in which intervention is followed by riposte in
a process of escalating significance -- with some sense of emergence of memetic
structures transcending such binary exchanges. Understandings from current
explorations of multi-level metadialogue could offer indications of possibilities
(Maurice A. Finocchiaro, Arguments,
Meta-arguments, and Metadialogues: a reconstruction of Krabbe, Govier,
and Woods. Argumentation, 21, 3, September 2007, pp. 253-268).
- enabling a dynamic of improvisation between poets, as
is much more frequently done in other arts (Musical
improvisation, Singing Improvisation, Theater, Dance, Film, Comedy, Poetry,
Television, Role-playing games). This
implies an ability for both poetic improvisation as
well as the capacity to respond to another poet, amplifying or challenging
the content -- but retaining a degree of overall connectivity with it. Impressive
examples of the result, but typically in the absence of improvisation, are
to be found in song, notably some folk songs in which singers effectively
challenge each other through alternating verses -- as may be done in opera
and multi-voice choirs.
The practice is the
focus of a periodic Mediterranean festival (Poetarcantando
nel Mediterraneo - dall'ottava
rima al rap). This drawsd on many cultures of the Mediterranean
which have preserved a tradition that is highly appreciated at evening gatherings
and village festivals: vocal jousting in which poet-singers confront each
other, improvising with wit and irony on various subjects: love, politics,
social commentary, etc.
- poetic debate: Clearly (as implied
by the above table) considerable
clarification is required to distinguish the variously related uses of
this and other terms in order
to highlight those relevant to current socio-political challenges. "Debate"
may itself be inappropriate -- where "encounter" or dialogue" offer
other possibilities, but also fraught with the possibility of other misunderstandings
and what might be considered (by those with greater
expectations) as aesthetic indulgences. There are many ways
in which "poetic" interaction can take place avoiding precisely
those modes that might prove fruitful to a problematic socio-political
situation like Afghanistan. In that sense poetic debate emulates -- or
provides a model for -- the binary logic of parliamentary rhetoric between
representatives of opposing parties.
It would be intriguing to discover that the Islamic formal reservations
about poetry implied a valuable disciplinary corrective against individualistic
poetic indulgences -- inhibiting effective emergence of collaborative insights.
What might be the criteria for fruitful critical dialogue between worldviews
through poetic debate? (cf Guidelines
for Critical Dialogue between Worldviews,
2006). In this respect the quadrilemma articulated from an Asian perspective
by Kinhide Mushakoji (Global Issues and Interparadigmatic
Dialogue, 1988) call for reflection on the distinctions between: Poetry,
Not-Poetry, Poetry-and-Not-Poetry, Neither-Poetry-nor-Not-Poetry.
Again, how ironic it would be if Somalia should
have explored so seriously a political possibility that less conflict-torn
countries have failed to do. More curious is the extent to which such "debates"
have been significant thought the history of many cultures. Jeffrey Walker
and Poetics in Antiquity, 2000) demonstrates that in antiquity
rhetoric and poetry could not be viewed separately. Missing however is a
sense of the poetic engagement between those of opposing views -- and perhaps
not just two -- and the extent to which a richer and more fruitful framework
emerged from their interaction.
What would it take to engender a larger aesthetic
framework embodying contrasting viewpoints in challengingly significant ways
of relevance to situations such as Afghanistan, the Caucasus or Iran?
- implication of a sense of "poetic
justice" as an understanding of the appropriateness
of the outcome of an interaction in which "virtue" is ultimately rewarded
or "vice" punished, notably through an ironic twist intimately
related to the conduct of either protagonist. A contrast can however
usefully be made between a purely aesthetic sense of justice and one
which reflects the strategic values and priorities of those engaged through
a challenging poetic debate -- as with the focus here. This "sense" is
important to the viability of any resolution of strategic differences
and to the ability to comprehend and accept it -- especially within a
wider population that must necessarily be engaged by the aesthetic outcome.
Relevant to a common appreciation of poetic justice
in the cross-cultural conflict of concern here is how different aesthetic
criteria apply and interweave. This may well be exemplified
by any juxtaposition between different musical genres in an encounter
(as with the Eurovision / EU anthem images above). In such cases, as with fusion
music, there is an understanding of the possibilities (Tod Swift
and Norton Phillip,
Short Fuse: The Global Anthology of New Fusion Poetry, 2002).
An annual Fusion Poetry Contest is
now held -- juxtaposing genres, but not in the kind of improvisational
encounter envisaged above.
However the challenge in any
encounter, involving poetic improvisation meaningful within Islamic
cultures, is more easily comprehended in the musical case (especially
given the reservations indicated above) and all the more so given the
deep-seated sense of injustice driving the strategic conflict. What insights
are to be drawn from the theory of musical
harmony? The question is how the
aesthetic resolution enables a non-trivial transformation of that sense of
injustice (and pain) into an existentially appreciated sense of poetic justice
-- for all involved. This goes beyond the rationale of the classic strategic
negotiating objective of Getting
to Yes (1981) -- which clearly has proven to be totally inadequate
to the "clash of civilizations". Hence the merit of exploring the possibility
of a multi-genre improvisationall epic.
|Relevant strategic implications of Japanese warlord
When Japan was churning in continuous, contagious arson and killing
among warlords from the 16th century onwards, there were three samurai
leaders who would lay the foundations for modern Japan today -- the
first whose vision of the country was of one nation-state. They were
to rule Japan in succession.
The three samurai leaders tried to unify the country: Nobunaga was known
for his cruelty, Hideyoshi for his impetuosity, Tokugawa for his patience.
A poetic parable (now learnt by all Japanese school children) was told
There was a little bird who wouldn't sing, they were asked by a Zen master
what they would do::
Nobunaga said, "little
bird, if you won't sing, I'll kill you"
Hideyoshi said, "little
bird, if you won't sing, I'll make you sing"
Tokugawa said, "little
bird, if you won't sing, I'll wait for you to sing."
Tokugawa became Shogun (leader
of Japan) in 1603, and his dynasty ruled until 1867.
Because of the number and range of relevant references, these have been
placed in a separate document: Strategic
Dialogue through Poetic Improvisation: web resources and bibliography