The Abstract Image
Two related strands of poetic diction have been handed down to contemporary American poetry from a tradition which we might label roughly “surrealist.” The first of these strands, predominantly Spanish in origin and one which we might label “archetypal,” has been brilliantly analyzed and criticized by Paul Breslin in his essay “Nihilistic Decorum in Contemporary Poetry,” where he states:
… a narrow and dull decorum has spread over most, though not all, poetry in America. Its characteristics include a studied plainness of vocabulary and syntax, a reliance on hackneyed “archetypal” symbols, and an eclectic, sentimental primitivism.
Breslin goes on to say:
… predictable in a poetry of archetype, is the codification of language into a generic vocabulary. In describing the same object, one may choose from a range of nouns extending from the most general (“stone”) to the most specific (“topaz”); one can be still more specific by adding modifiers (“this four-carat smokey topaz”). Both ends of the spectrum have their uses, but if one cleaves always to the generic, the result is a stylization of imagery, analogous to highly stylized forms of art.