"Sentimentality" is often the accusation brought by the critic when he would refuse some experience or idea arising in the poem that does not satisfy or support his personal world of values but would threaten, if it were allowed, to undo that world. The word "sentimental" means "supposed" experience, I suppose. "You do not really feel that" or "you are letting your feelings get away with you" is the reproof often where we would not like to allow the feeling detected to advance, lest we too feel what the advancing feeling brings with it. Much of modern criticism of poetry is not to raise a crisis in our consideration of the content or to deepen our apprehension of the content, but to dismiss the content. When such critics would bring the flight of imagination down to earth, they mean not the earth men have revered and worked with love and awe, the imagined earth, but the real estate modern man has made of Earth for his own uses.-- Robert Duncan, "The Truth and Life of Myth"
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Monday, February 10, 2014
"It totters when she licks it with her tongue." - Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in yellow wood. And then converged. And that has made no difference.
Is the new Sappho a bit disappointing--the fragment the best. Or is it that we need some cleaning by Pound. Still, it was always a life-long dream of mine that we would find a Sophocles around, a few Euripides, a book that Eco wanted: the golden book of Comedy by Aristotle. Let's all get together and translate the Sappho again. When my son was 12 he wrote a love poem that was: "You burn me." That seems a fairly authentic fragment. Most archaeologists tell me that what they want is a laundry-list, and one told me she particularly loved the listing of the boats. She hated poetry, she loved Egyptology.
Funny that Frost is as great as the idiots think. Poetry totters when she licks us with her tongue. Purposely and for him I like to play tennis at night with the net down, up and down. It's very difficult to play tennis without nets; but try it. You have to guess a lot and be quite accurate.
One week years ago I was studying Plath for an essay and felt bad except that it seemed no scholars had seen the Trakl in her work particularly the sudden expressionism in some late poems. But she appeared in a dream one week and I said to her: Sylvia, I like some of your poems but I don't like those who prefer the tape-recordings of your screams. She looked hard at my apology and slunk back into the dream--unappeasable it seemed. Years later I was asked in Prague whether I wanted to hear a recording of Jan Palach's last agony and screams. I said No. I preferred the paragon of freedom to his fearful cries...
One day Richard Kostelanetz asked me who was my favorite living poet. I said Wallace Stevens. He said But he is dead. I said Not for me. Many other poets are not yet alive. Pasternak received special medicine from Dr. Zhivago. All my favorite poets are alive: Keats, Sappho, Akhmatova. Native American artist told me she had no word for art but used another:
Tap my phones, keep my papers free.
-- David Shapiro
Saturday, February 8, 2014
Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Virginia Jackson, in Dickinson’s Misery (2006), reminds us that we cannot understand the what of lyric without understanding the when. She traces the process by which, since the 19th century, “poetic and lyric have come to seem cognate.” These terms were not always equated and, increasingly, they are no longer. Jackson looks at Dickinson’s work in the context of letters, wide-circulation magazines, and other materials, and reminds us that the subsequent century saw the migration of the lyric from the popular press to the classroom. Jackson writes, “What has been left out of most thinking about the process of lyricization is that it is an uneven series of negotiations of many different forms of circulation and address.”
-- B.K. Fischer, "Sieves of Consciousness," Boston Review
And certainly, writers who stay afloat in terms of reputation are willing to self-promote and to indulge in the networking that connects them – via readings and workshops and signings and conferences and and and — with insiders in the world of media and publishers. Ponsot, in a 2003 interview with Benjamin Irvy, had this to say about her interrupted career: “I was very busy. It’s really that I was entirely out of all those professional poetry loops. That’s worth saying, because it’s easy to keep writing without tremendous agitation in whatever time you have. If you don’t imagine yourself as a career poet but rather as a person who writes poems, you can just go on doing that.” She goes on to say, “You really have to believe me when I say my dissociation from the idea of publication was not deliberate, contemptuous or passive-aggressive; it just didn’t occur to me. Think of all those seventeenth-century cavalier poets who had no interest in publishing their work – it didn’t occur to them either. Frequent publication of poems is a nineteenth-century development.”-- Julie Larios, "Undersung | Marie Ponsot: Wandering Still," Numéro Cinq
Labels: lyric poetry
Saturday, December 14, 2013
“The language they think of as democratic anti-elitist are really the scraps of the English language that have dropped from the feasting tables of the oligarchs. This sort of ordinary-language poetry isn’t democratic at all: it’s servile. Yes, servile.”
- Geoffrey Hill
Saturday, November 9, 2013
On the El not long ago, I met a veteran of the war in Afghanistan who is now a teacher in the Chicago Public Schools. We discussed what it means for a country to suffer from the deterioration of its ideals and infrastructure. I dedicate this post to him.
Every Veteran's Day, I feature the following story, told by Katy Evans-Bush on her outstanding blog, Baroque in Hackney; this year, I'm posting it with gratitude to my seatmate, and to countless others like him who are doing, have done, work that few of us can imagine - but all of us can appreciate.
In June 1918, a young poet called Eloise Robinson, touring the Front on behalf of the YMCA, was giving a poetry recital to an audience of American soldiers. Guy Davenport tells it: “Reciting poetry! It is all but unimaginable that in that hell of terror, gangrene, mustard gas, sleeplessness, lice, and fatigue, there were moments when bone-weary soldiers, for the most part mere boys, would sit in a circle around a lady poet in an ankle-length khaki skirt and a Boy Scout hat, to hear poems.”
I can’t find a picture of Eloise Robinson. But she was reciting poems, and in the middle of one poem, Davenport tells us, her memory flagged. “She apologized profusely, for the poem, as she explained, was immensely popular back home.” A hand went up, and a young sergeant offered to recite the poem. Here is what (in, as Davenport reminds us, “the hideously ravaged orchards and strafed woods of the valley of the Ourcq, where the fields were cratered and strewn with coils of barbed wire, fields that reeked of cordite and carrion”) the soldier recited:
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree...
Eloise Robinson was surprised and impressed that he should know it. “Well, ma’am,” he told her. “I guess I wrote it.”
Joyce Kilmer was killed by a German sniper less than two months later, only three months before the Armistice. His most famous poem had been published in Poetry (Chicago) in 1913.
Eloise, for her part, continuing about her duties at the Front, wrote to Poetry that August: “I wish I might tell you of my visit to the French front, and how for two nights I slept in a ‘cave’ with seven Frenchmen and had a hundred bombs dropped on me. Not directly on top, of course. The nearest hit just in front of the house. And for five days and nights after that I was taking chocolate to advance batteries, to men who can never leave their guns.”
Davenport mentions how Kilmer’s Trees is in fact a self-reflective poem, about poetry itself. These days that’s a sort of no-no, a workshop cliché, but - even though the poem rates itself as second to a tree - the fact nevertheless gives us a clue to something ...
Please click here to read the rest of this wonderful post commemorating Remembrance Day/Veteran's Day, in which Katy moves forward to Tom Disch's reworking of the Kilmer poem (also published in Poetry magazine), complete with a comment from the legendary Samuel R. Delaney!
As Katy sums up:
"Disch’s poem [which is called "Poems"!] also gets at something else, something important, that Kilmer – however conventional and pious – knew very well, and knew while he was writing Trees: the reason why he would bother to write a poem about a thing like a tree in the first place – and the reason Eloise Robinson was reciting poems to soldiers."
In appreciation for those who have served.
Pictured above: The poet and solider, Joyce Kilmer.
Friday, November 1, 2013
--Tom Sleigh, "To Be Incarnational," Poetry, November 2013
Pictured: Satellite photograph of deforestation in progress
Given the mental brownout I suffer when confronted with abstractions like “race,” “class,” “gender,” “politics,” I’ve become ever more skeptical that poets can speak for communities: they can speak to what they think the community is — they can assume commonalities — they can, in a limited way, propose certain shared values as if they actually existed, as Whitman did — but somehow, some way, they need to signal that they’re aware of the limitations of their singular, subjective viewpoint.
And as for a poet addressing posterity, in our current rising sea-level, four hundred parts of carbon dioxide per million eco-disaster mode, it’s impossible for any poet to know in the moment of writing if there’s even going to be a posterity to write for or to. Not that posterity was anything but a fantasy made popular by Romantic notions of the artist as representative sufferer...
Nowadays, the idea of someone speaking for a “community” feels almost repellent to me... The overt expression of positions, at least in my ears, sounds like iron smashing against iron.
Pictured: Satellite photograph of deforestation in progress
Wednesday, October 2, 2013
The real question is why so many readers (poets, critics, journalists, etc.) expect poetry to carry the burden of cultural repair. No one writes jeremiads deploring the novel (or at least The New York Times and Harper’s choose not to publish them), presumably because popular novels, like commercial films, carry their weight, economically. So the real question seems to be: why can’t poets write “economically viable” poems (yes, I’m citing the black character protesting outside a bank in the Michael Douglas film, Falling Down)? Or as one of my students put it to me, why can’t poets write poems as good as a Jay-Z song? That brings me to performance poetry.
In fact, performance poetry has exploded in popularity. It’s difficult to find a metropolitan area that doesn’t feature a bevy of performance poetry and spoken word events. You’d think critics and traditional poets would be shouting for joy that so many people show an interest in poetry, even “that” kind of poetry. Instead, the higher the pile of unread books and chapbooks of poetry—see Seth Abramson and Stephen Burt for two critics who have expressed frustration at not being able to cover it all–the more vitriolic the screeds. What is that all about?
-- Tyrone Williams, "Why Can’t Poets Write Poems as Good as a Jay-Z Song? : Posthumanism and Poetry" at Harriet
According to Nielsen BookScan, 2012 saw a 15.9% drop in sales of single-authored poetry collections, leaving the total UK market for poetry books worth only £6.7m that year. No poet is in it for the money, but publishers—to some extent at least—have to be, and they are of course a vital link in the literary culture.-- Gregory Leadbetter, "Poetry Abides," in The Bookseller
Moreover, a good poetry book deserves to be valued as much as a good novel, or good non-fiction. As Heminge and Condell put it, when presenting the Shakespeare First Folio to readers in 1623: ‘The fate of all Bookes depends upon your capacities: and not of your heads alone, but of your purses’. Even a ‘gift’ culture – sometimes held up as an alternative to the market economy of contemporary publishing—depends upon the acknowledgement of value.
Thursday, September 26, 2013
Authority is a slippery thing, and its nature is going through yet another permutation in literary life. There are plenty of young, gifted critics writing fiercely and argumentatively in relatively obscure Web publications. But they are keenly aware that, along with the target of their scrutiny, the source of their own authority is also an object of examination. Macdonald simply took for granted the fact that membership in a community conferred on him a certain accredited brilliance. This is what, for me, makes reading him now an incomplete experience, because the group that certified his judgments has disappeared. Literary criticism on the Web, on the other hand, draws whatever authority it has by renouncing any claims to authority. The Web critic relies on his or her readers for attentiveness and approval. A social style is gradually replacing an idiosyncratic one...
Applying old standards to a time when everyone is throwing everything they can at the proverbial wall to see what sticks is like printing out a tweet, putting it in an envelope, and sending it to someone through the mail. The very fact that reading and writing are in jeopardy, or simply evolving, means that to try to put the brakes of old criteria on a changing situation is going to be either obstructive or boring. In our critical age of almost manic invention, the most effective criticism of what, in the critic’s eyes, is a bad book would be to simply ignore it, while nudging better books toward the fulfillment of what the critic understands to be each book’s particular creative aim. The very largeness and diversity of present-day audiences make less and less relevant the type of review that never gets beyond the book under review. It’s the critic’s job nowadays not just to try to survive and flourish amid ever-shifting modes of cognition and transmission, but to define new standards that might offer clarity and illumination amid all the change. Quite simply, the book review is dead, and the long review essay centered on a specific book or books is staggering toward extinction.
-- Lee Siegel, "Burying the Hatchet," The New Yorker/Page-Turner, September 26, 2013
Labels: book reviews