Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Complete Someone

Asked for further clarification of my frustration with folks who can't stand books with too many pages of poems in them, let me quote Randall Jarrell:

"... the average reader knows poetry mainly from anthologies, just as he knows philosophy mainly from histories of philosophy or textbooks: the Complete Someone--hundreds or thousands of small-type, double-column pages of poetry, without one informing repentant sentence of ordinary prose--evokes from him a start of that savage and unreasoning timidity, the horror vacui, with which he stares at the lemmas and corollaries of Spinoza's Ethics. Those cultural entrepreneurs, the anthologists, have become figures of melancholy and deciding importance for the average reader of poetry, a man of great scope and little grasp, who still knows what he likes--in the anthologies."

5 comments:

jsflescher@yahoo.com said...

hmmm... perhaps, but the anthology is not the opposite of a book with too many pages in it. Collecteds are great -- but you must admit they lack bookness -- the composure, guidance, cohesion -- where each poem is a vertebrae... While where at it, can you tell me where to start in my Auden door-stop?

Don Share said...

Anthologies make it possible to avoid full books. If this seem good for you, that's fine. But it's a sorry world in which poets avoid poems. I don't see why a large book full of poems needs any cohesion beyond what the reader can come up with for herself. This is why we were born with the capability to develop critical skills of our own, and why it strikes me as a pity that people don't want to have any.

Jennifer S. Flescher said...

Still, aren't the role of the collected and the role of the anthology living in the same realm? They are there for broader circulation, ease, history,access. Certainly anyone who doesn't want any book is misguided, but to say that a poem isn't given more by the poet's own making of a book seems to me like taking out a harmony or a refrain -- maybe it all boils down to being a rock-opera fan, but I really think that a book is another generation of poetry, and a collection is not.

Don Share said...

What I'm talking about is the intellectual laziness in complaints that some books are just too darned big, or that it's not worth reading certain poems or poets. I'm arguing against having your reading and thinking pre-digested for you by anthology editors and by reviewers who figure they're doing a service by narrowing your mind for you. Read as you will, by all means, but to all this I myself say: no thanks! It never hurt me a bit to read things nobody else told me to, and the discoveries were an education I never got in any school. Your mileage may, and inevitably will, vary.

Don Share said...

P.S. "Few of those who fill the world with books have any pretensions to the hope either of pleasing or instructing. They have often no other task than to lay two books before them, out of which they compile a third, without any new material of their own, and with very little application of judgment to those which former authors have supplied."
Johnson: Idler #85 (December 1, 1759)