My post yesterday got me thinking about genre in general and poetry in specific. I wondered, Does poetry have genre? Fiction has genre. Music has genre. Film has genre. Do other arts have genre?
In responding to this, it’s helpful to go back and review what a genre is. A genre is a subgroup of an art that consists of a series of endlessly replicatable “conventions.” In film noir, those conventions were both character archetypes (the hardboiled investigator, the good woman, the femme fatale) and visual elements (shots saturated in high contrast black and white, rainy city streets, perpetual night, dark costumes). The romantic comedy also has easily identifiable conventions: two people who are obviously MFOE (made for each other, if you’re not 14), are kept at arm’s distance from each other by any number of the following: hatred for each other, career/class difference, other relationships, ethnic backgrounds, family pressures, or physical distance. The beginning of the film should solidify and reify the major relationship blockage; the central portion of the film should complicate or nuance the blockage; and the end of the film should involve one or both characters resolving to move out of the way of the blockage in order to achieve love.
In fiction, the romance genre is so conventional that you can write to a romance novel publisher and receive a simple sheet of plot conventions and character archetypes in crafting your narrative.
With the constant evolution of poetry, with the way it, like film, can eat all other forms of art and spit them out changed, it seems like genre might be a no brainer. But what are the genres of poetry?
As someone who has worked with elegy for about four years (and three books’ worth), I’m not convinced that the elegy is a genre. I guess it does have some conventions; it needs, for example, to concern the death of someone or something. Most elegies have a consistent tone, but I wouldn’t say that there is a consistent elegaic set of images or words per say.
Forms aren’t necessarily genres, although they, too, have physical conventions of meter, rhyme, stanza formation, etc.
Questions…? Comments…? This is an essay I can’t finish yet.