Eileen John (Warwick): ‘The Experience of Necessity in Poetry’
The elements of a poem are sometimes said to ‘have to be’ precisely as they are. Each word needs to be what and where it is, in relation to every other word and every line-break, punctuation mark, et cetera. We could understand this in a way that doesn’t distinguish poems from other objects: a poem needs to be exactly the way it is, to be the poem it is, just as my scarf would stop being exactly the scarf it is if the moth eats more of the wool. Each object needs its elements just to occupy its specific niche in reality. I take it that the notion of necessity in a poem is supposed to capture something deeper. Do poems have a way of turning what might seem to be a contingent, speculative, or playful association of elements into something stronger and possibly necessary?