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ALBERT B. CASUGA, a Philippine-born writer, lives in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, where he continues to write poetry, fiction, and criticism after his retirement from teaching and serving as an elected member of his region's school board. He was nominated to the Mississauga Arts Council Literary Awards in 2007. A graduate of the Royal and Pontifical University of St. Thomas (now University of Santo Tomas, Manila. Literature and English, magna cum laude), he taught English and Literature (Criticism, Theory, and Creative Writing) at the Philippines' De La Salle University and San Beda College. He has authored books of poetry, short stories, literary theory and criticism. He has won awards for his works in Canada, the U.S.A., and the Philippines. His latest work, A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems was published February 2009 by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House. His fiction and poetry were published by online literary journals Asia Writes and Coastal Poems recently. He was a Fellow at the 1972 Silliman University Writers Workshop, Philippines. As a journalist, he worked with the United Press International and wrote an art column for the defunct Philippines Herald.

Thursday, May 22, 2014



The proper object of criticism in poetry is the artist’s achievement in the objectification and subjectification of his experience in terms of his language (style) and the articulation/ presentation of his selected details (technique).

In the formalistic approach, certain standards considered to be common among all types of poetry may serve as yardsticks in the measurement of the poem’s artistry.

The artistic achievement refers to the created reality which is the poem. As an artistic result, the poem is a separate entity distinct from the author’s personality. It is a “being” in itself and has a complete “universe of meaning”. It can explain itself. This is a product of its being objectified by the poet.

To objectify means to utilize language as poetry’s primary material to give a concrete existential form to the otherwise abstract aesthetic (poetic) experience. This form’s objective components are the linguistic devices and energies articulated into the work so that it may assume a distinguishable or recognizable form whether it is printed as text on paper or verbalized in terms of song or speech.

Objectification is the artist’s first responsibility. In order to achieve this, he must have a reasonably intelligent grasp of his language. Normally, the poet’s language is imagistic (in that it is capable of evoking images in the imagination), concrete (as opposed to abstract, it is definable and particular), and familiar (in that it makes use of the conventions of language such that it fulfills the requirements of communication). When the poet uses his language, therefore, he is equipped with this information about his medium.

The other half of the poet’s job is to subjectify or emotionalize the objectified experience. Since the objectification is simply a rendering of the experience in terms of recognizable situational experiences, the reader (left to appreciate this alone) will simply confront a literal context of pictures which, if disparate, may fail to produce a meaningful gestalt (whole picture).

Subjectification refers to the author’s comment on this objectified set of images which ties the disparate pictures together thereby advancing the subtleties of the experience to the appreciator. To subjectify, therefore, is to shape the objective experience into the artist’s conception of this reality --- in other words, he “interiorizes” this external experience and it comes out with a peculiar slant towards the point of the poem.

Subjectification may be achieved by the author’s selection of objectifying materials (images, symbols, figures, context, etc), his direct assertion of a realization about the objective elements he articulates into the form, and his personal comment on the shape of things within the poem.

In brief, the author’s responsibility is the “objectification of his subject (experience) and “the subjectification of his object (form).”

For instance, if an author is concerned with the expression of ennui and the rueful atmosphere in a funeral, while at the same time commenting on the peremptoriness of death such that it requires the man to be in perpetual “readiness,” he may objectify his experience in this manner:

Sunday: this satisfied procession
Of definite Sunday faces;
Bonnets, silk hats, and conscious graces
In repetition that displaces
Your mental self-possession. 1 

In selecting his objectifying details, the author must have focused on the commonplaces of a funeral --- Sunday, Sunday faces, bonnets, silk hats, conscious graces in repetition. As images, they “image” the procession of mourning people; hence, the author succeeds in objectifying the experience. The commonplaces of the funeral serve as the familiar images which are conventional signals for associations about the abstract experience which originated with the poet.

The last two lines “subjectify” the object in that they include the reaction of the persona witnessing the procession. It is, therefore, a comment. It makes clear the relationship between the poet and his object --- the procession “displaces/ Your mental self-possession.” The use of “satisfied” and “definite” are also indications of the author having “interiorized” the external elements (in terms of the images), and has, therefore, coloured the objects with his comment. In this manner, the literal object assumes a texture --- one can therefore react to the object because it now suggests a stance which may evoke reaction.

It is when the poet fails to evoke feelings or reactions from his reader through a mere objectification that indifference towards the poem sets in.

The poet fails to subjectify his object in the following poem by Guillermo V. Sison:

Candles, yellow and white, burning;
Incense-smoke heavenward ascending;
Veils, black and white, half-concealing;
Voices, music, mingling, blending;
Saints, priests, sinners, marching;
Men, women, mumbling, praying;
Serpent-like, the procession coiling, moving. 2

Although the picture is presented, it lacks the element which made the earlier version of the procession by T. S. Eliot in “Spleen” more expressive. The Eliot poem comments on the objective correlative. In the Sison poem, there must likewise be a comment on the picture as a reality. Otherwise, it will not serve to articulate the point which is being communicated by the poet to the reader. The Sison poem will simply leave the reader askance as to what it is trying to say.

Since all works of art are supposed to accomplish these two processes, the first item of criticism would be on whether or not there was an achievement of these two functions. Quite naturally, the achievement of these functions is precisely the artistic purpose of every work of art. Criticism, therefore, must be concerned with the evaluation of whether or not these functions were fulfilled by the poem.

Like the criticism of fiction, the criticism of poetry must also start with the definition of the artistic purpose. As a common denominator of all poetry written from the Classical to the Modern Times, the purpose of objectification and subjectification of an experience is a safe enough base to proceed from.

Does the poem succeed in objectifying the experience? Does the poem succeed in subjectifying the object of the experience?

Style and technique, as has already been argued, are those two factors mainly responsible for accomplishing the artist’s twin functions in connection with his work of art.

How effective is the style in serving the artistic purpose of objectifying and subjectifying the aesthetic experience being conveyed? How effective is the technique in serving the artistic purpose? These are the major considerations in the criticism of a poem.

There are, however, certain standards which govern the use of language and the presentation of poetic material. Before one can criticize whether a poem has formal excellence or none, he must at least be aware of these common criteria.


1 T. S. Eliot, “Spleen"

Sunday: this satisfied procession
Of definite Sunday faces;
Bonnets, silk hats, and conscious graces
In repetition that displaces
Your mental self-possession.

Evening, lights and tea!
Children and cats in the alley;
Dejection unable to rally
Against this dull conspiracy.
And life, a little bald and gray,
Languid, fastidious, and bland.

Waits, hats and gloves in hand,
Punctilious of tie and suit
(somewhat impatient of delay)
On the doorstep of the Absolute.

2 G. V. Sison, “Procession” as quoted by Rolando Tinio in “Period of Awareness: The Poets,” Brown Heritage, pg. 626, Ateneo de Manila University Press, Quezon city, 1967.

Next: Part 2 Criticizing Style in Poetry

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