Poetic Inquiry - from my diss

Dear Reader, What follows is an exciting preview-- the first two pages of my in-progress dissertation!



Poetic Inquiry

Who can doubt that poetry will revive and lead in a new age, as the star in the constellation Harp, which now flames in our zenith, astronomers announce, shall one day be the polestar for a thousand years?Emerson, “The American Scholar”

The long way leading to the poetry is itself one that inquires poetically. – Heidegger commenting on Rilke, “What Are Poets For?”

By Way of Introduction

Very simply, poetic inquiry is a process of contemplative truth-seeking followed by creative expression of the truth discovered. This dissertation explores poetic inquiry as a potential avenue of literary education.

Like philosophic and scientific inquiry, poetic inquiry seeks to discover and communicate truth. But while both philosophic and scientific inquiry deploy systematic and rational approaches to their projects and largely emphasize objectivity, poetic inquiry is nonsystematic and intuitive in its approach and  emphasizes subjectivity rather than objectivity. In other words, poetic inquiry attends primarily to the existential and subjective dimension of truth.[1]

Expression in poetic inquiry is “creative” in that through the use of poetic strategies it creates for the reader or audience an extra-rational experience of the author-inquirer’s discovered truth (i.e., it does not communicate the discovered truth via rational argument or proof.  Somewhat perplexingly and confusingly, there is also a sense in which the actual act of expressing truth via poetic strategies creates such truth or brings it into being – as in the case of an intuition which is at first only dimly realized by the author-inquirer but becomes clear as she articulates it. In this sense we might say that poetic inquiry can not only discover but can also “make” truths. “Making” is of course the original meaning of the Greek word “poiesis” from which our English word “poetry” derives.  In the context of poetic inquiry we would say that what poetry “makes” is the experience of extra-rational truth.

Because poetic inquiry is an essentially intuitive and extra-rational process, it resists being articulated in any systematic way.  There are very many fantastic examples of the fruit of poetic inquiry. There are far fewer fantastic explanations of the process.  I have attempted to articulate and champion the process of poetic inquiry in this prosaic dissertation form because I have desired to teach it to myself and to others, and because many people (including myself) resist doing something when they cannot understand just why and how it should be done. Thus the following work attempts to reasonably explain the detailed application and essential value of an endeavor which exceeds reason. I have sought to do this rather difficult task because I believe poetic inquiry to be very important work indeed, work which we have perhaps been neglecting for the very reason that it is difficult to rationally or systematically explain and justify.

[1] There are figures who are hailed as philosophers—Nietzsche, Emerson, and Kierkegaard come prominently to mind—whose work may be said to rely more heavily on poetic strategy (gesture, fiction, drama, trope—see the discussion of these later in this dissertation) than on rational argument and who value existential and subjective truth. I would count these figures as poetic inquirers rather than philosophers.

Posted on February 28, 2011 and filed under Poetic Inquiry.