Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Poetry, brevity, and the soul of wit
It's not generally remembered that John Berryman was among those who wrote "critical supplements" for Poetry magazine - those separately-published booklets were the forerunner of today's online "discussion guides."
Here's a gem from his contribution to the December 1949 supplement:
The shorter a poem, on the whole, the better it has to be; the best-natured reader can see whatever blunders there are in a quatrain-piece.
(Click on the pic to enlarge it; you'll see some of Berryman's amusing characterizations of Wallace Stevens!)
Speaking of brevity, Twitter (and Twitter-so-called-poetry) notwithstanding, ours is a verbose age. Scratch every poet and you'll find an itch for some kind of project. And when it comes to poetry readings, well... to wrench a phrase from Samuel Johnson, none ever wished one to be longer than it is. And yet...
Here's a headline from the December 10, 1948, edition of The Harvard Crimson -
Poetess' Brevity Sets New Record
The article, in full, is terribly brief itself:
"More than 200 modern verse enthusiasts crowded into Sever 11 yesterday afternoon to hear poetess Marianne Moore recite four of her lyrics in one of the shortest Morris Gray readings ever held. The whole meeting lasted less than half an hour.
Miss Moore, who prefaced her brief reading with random remarks on the qualities that characterize a good poet, was introduced by Professor F. O. Matthiessen."
As Marsden Hartley put it in Poetry magazine back in 1919, "Brevity of all things demands intensity, or better say tensity."
Re the photo above, David Shapiro writes,"The page alone has the intelligence and sadness of the young poet as god, old poet as tramp."