The secular, sacred, and aesthetic cases of Lawrence Joseph
Outside those poems constrained by explicitly procedural and chance operations, a lyrical impulse, which is not to be confused with the lyric per se, dominates almost all the modes of contemporary poetry. Whether explicit or implicit, this impulse, apparent in narrative-, image-driven, and paratactic poetics, is irreducible to any specific subgenre or mode. Though the lyrical impulse differs from the lyric, which can be defined as “a relatively short poem in which the sensual and musical qualities of language are heightened in order to present a subjective, emotionally charged moment, an interior event with lasting resonance,” it functions, like the genre from which it derives, as a “law of poetics,” imposing constraints during the composition of poetry, the judgment of what to publish and what not to publish, the judgment of what is and isn’t poetry, etc. The various practices of poetry under this law habituate authors, publishers, and critics to its apparent inevitability, naturalizing the lyrical impulse, if not the lyric per se, as the sine qua non of poetry in general. These practices tend to calcify into irrepressible, complementary habits of writing and reading which function as “local” laws in relation to the general law of the lyric. These “laws” explain why readers and critics can “trace” or follow motives and motifs in a poet’s career; the final suppression of the lyrical (not the lyric) impulse rarely occurs. The poet returns incessantly to the scene of instruction which is, of course, the scene of the crime, the enabling trauma that enters public life under the mask, in the cage, of the law of the lyric.