The Lies Poetry Tells: Rhetoric, Poetics, and Tradition

Dr. Rinaldi's Horror Cabinet

Oscar Wilde sublimely remarked that “all bad poetry is sincere.” Doubtless it would be wrong to say that all great poetry is insincere, but of course almost all of it necessarily tells lies, fictions essential to literary art. Authentic, high literature relies upon troping, a turning away not only from the literal but from prior tropes.

– Harold Bloom, The Anatomy of Influence

I read a lot of sincere poetry everyday, poetry that tries to adhere to “truth” rather than to enter wholeheartedly into the little turns or tropes that make the great traditions of poetry come alive and full of that strangeness that sets it apart. Of course etymologically sincerity is simple to break down:

1530s, “pure, unmixed,” from Middle French sincere (16c.), from Latin sincerus, of things, “whole, clean, pure, uninjured, unmixed,” figuratively “sound, genuine, pure, true, candid, truthful,” of uncertain origin. Ground sense seems to be…

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