Essay

Art vs. Laundry

Is there more to life than poetry?

by Stephen Burt
Washing Machine

More and more, this year—especially since our second child was born—I’ve come to feel that poetry just can’t be as important as most people who write about it now make it seem: that, as Elizabeth Bishop put it in another connection, “Art just isn’t worth that much.” Sometimes I do not want to read—much less read about, write about, or even write—poetry, because it would take time away from more important things (such as accumulated laundry). More often I feel that I should not give poems the time that they (immoral creatures) seem to demand. If we are judged fairly, if we can ever be judged fairly, the verdict will rest much less on the spark in our line breaks or on the aptness of our adjectives than on whether we live as responsible people: whether we keep our promises, prepare acceptable lunches for our children, return the phone calls we get at odd hours from friends. We will be judged on whether we give other people what we owe them, and whether we can clean up after ourselves.

Such claims, and the feeling behind them, might have seemed to some writers (to Bishop, or to George Herbert) to go without saying. “There are things that are important beyond all this fiddle,” as Marianne Moore put it in her poem “Poetry.” To other writers (to William Blake, or to Barbara Guest) the feeling might have seemed misguided, or erroneous, or something that no true poet would ever maintain. It’s a feeling that can obviously lead the people who take it seriously—who allot their time accordingly—to make less art.

It can also affect the art that does get made. What are the characteristics of an art—of poetry, in particular—that estimates its own worth moderately, an art whose makers and whose readers do not expect themselves to put it first? It does not require us to say that we “dislike it,” nor to read it “with a perfect contempt for it” (as Moore’s “Poetry” prescribed), but it must be modest about its demands on our time.

It is, therefore, art on a small scale, art that can at least seem self-contained: it must consist either of compact, independent wholes or of modular, separable parts. The poems of Robert Herrick make perfect examples: “I sing of brooks, of blossoms, birds, and bowers,” the first poem in his collected works begins. Many of his elegantly playful pages take very little time to remind us that we have little time, saying, famously, “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.” Other poems by Herrick compare his art to clearly trivial pursuits: in “Love’s Play at Push-Pin,” (discussed at length in one of my favorite lit-crit books) the art of poetry and the art of love both resemble a “childish” game much like jacks.

An art that does not want to make too much of itself must be concise, but it need not seem “minor” or “light”; it may eschew elegance for sharper, harsher effects. The contemporary poet Rae Armantrout sets herself against all kinds of self-importance, including the self-importance endemic to poetry: no wonder her poems end up short, no wonder they so often seem to cut themselves off, no wonder they admire (when they admire anything) sites and phrases that would otherwise seem beneath poetry, beneath notice. One of her happiest recent poems, “Pleasure,” imagines a scene

                        Just made up

                                                of

                        tuning fork ferns,

 

                        blackbird pipe-lettes:

 

                        little golden

                        self-measuring

                        extents

Armantrout’s “little . . . extents” figure her short lines; they are also the fronds of ferns, unshowy replacements for more colorful flora—her versions, you might say, of Herrick’s “birds and bowers.” Such poems (like those of William Carlos Williams or Walt Whitman) promise to reverse society’s values, so that the last shall be first, the common most prized; they also (unlike Whitman) turn a wry and unprophetic eye on any moral claims they advance.

Poets who play down the importance of poetry, who write against its overestimation, often repudiate earlier, more confident, or more ambitious poems: they may write what the ancient Greeks called palinodes, poems that take back (Greek palin: “back,” “backward,” “against,” or “again”) what the same poet earlier said. Robert Lowell began his career with jeremiads, poems of prophetic denunciation, but his last books, especially Day by Day (1977), are full of palinodes and renunciations, declarations of unimportance: “Fortunately / I only dream inconsequence”; “I was surer, wasn’t I, once . . . ” You can call such art self-dramatizing (you can call every bit of Lowell self-dramatizing, if you decide to dislike him), but you might want to see how hard he tried to diminish the power he claimed for himself.

You can find other self-doubts, other stabs at the palinode, in less likely places: for example, within Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s In Memoriam, a long elegy for the poet’s best friend, Arthur Hallam, composed in 131 self-contained parts over 17 years. Some of the parts dramatize world-shaking grief or promise consolation. But some of the parts worry that none of the parts will do anything for anyone. Perhaps they are merely a “sad mechanic exercise, / Like dull narcotics, numbing pain,” and the poet himself like an “infant . . . with no language but a cry.” You can call such doubts about poetry, expressed in poetry, a rhetorical convention or a pose, but you might still see how Tennyson repeats them: they vex him. (In Tennyson’s earlier poem “The Palace of Art,” the soul of the poet first seeks, then decides to reject, the “God-like isolation,” the “spacious mansion,” and the “intellectual throne” of literary technique pursued for its own sake.)

An art that doubts or lowballs its own worth may also doubt the wisdom of anyone’s choice to devote a whole life to that art. It may address an audience itself not wholly devoted to poetry, an audience that has made the wiser choice. Such an art must acknowledge not only that it can learn from, but that it might deserve to lose, the competition for time and attention and energy that poetry mounts against any more practical endeavor: child care, certainly, but also the pursuit of public good through electoral politics, the transportation of freight by road, river, and rail, or the practice of medicine.

It was William Carlos Williams who wrote, late in life, that “men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found” in poetry, but it was also Williams, a family doctor, who had to write some of his poems on prescription pads, in the minutes between seeing patients, and it was Williams who likened his own prolific output of small-scale poems to the “monolith of sand” transported by “The Well-Disciplined Bargeman,” whose work is admirable but never prophetic, magical, or exalted. “Standing upon the load the well disciplined bargeman / rakes it carefully, smooth on top with nicely squared / edges to conform to the barge outlines—ritually: sand.” To say as much is to elevate bargemen, certainly, but it is also to delimit, and to demystify, claims for poetry: so much, and no more, perhaps, are the lines of verse.

An art that abjures high claims to its own importance—that abjures them without sounding self-important—does well to compare itself to more practical pursuits (such as the steering of barges) or else to diversions (such as push-pin), sports, and games. W.H. Auden, in his elegy for W.B. Yeats, first told us that “Poetry makes nothing happen,” then told poets to make things happen anyway (“With your unconstraining voice / Still persuade us to rejoice”). Auden later came down on the side of inconsequence, instructing would-be poets (in verse) that their art was mere diversion: “Your tears have value if they make us gay; / O Happy Grief! is all sad verse can say.” Paul Muldoon has offered even sharper ripostes to the idea that art has a special moral status, that poets and poetry ipso facto deserve a great deal of your time or a high place: indeed, according to Muldoon’s sonnet “The Point,” poetry of the kind that Muldoon writes may not have any “point” at all:

            What everything in me wants to articulate
            is this little bit of a scar that dates
            from the time O’Clery, my schoolroom foe,

            rammed his pencil into my exposed thigh
            (not, as the chronicles have it, my calf)
            with such force that the point was broken off.

So much for confessional poetry (which digs out and plays up the poet’s old wounds); so much for the Irish epic (such as the Táin bó Cúailnge, which begins with a stolen calf); so much for the noble ambitions that W.B. Yeats once saw in a “consecrated blade.” Muldoon suggests, or fears, that his poems are worth no more, and no less, than a schoolroom feud.

But these are attacks, refutations, teases, palinodes. They work against grander, untenable notions of art rather than setting up notions of their own. How would a poet articulate a positive role for an unambitious art? How could a poem show that it is worth something, some time and attention, but not too much; that for it, we may give up some (but only some) more practical goods, postpone (but only by so many hours) so many obligations (e.g., laundry)? Bishop’s own poem called “Poem” (it begins “About the size of an old-style dollar bill”) mounts perhaps the best modern defense of a modest and yet a durable art: an art that deserves our attention, and our gratitude, even if (and because) it will not take all day.

Bishop’s poem describes an heirloom painting, one that “has never earned any money in its life,” and what it records (what gives the painting, and the poem, their use value, their value in memory) ought neither to be ignored nor to be mistaken for grand revelation. Contemplating “a sketch done in an hour, ‘in one breath’” of a farm in Nova Scotia (“Heavens, I recognize the place, I know it!”) by Bishop’s uncle George, “Poem” combines the rhetoric of an overstated, even a playful humility with a genuine modesty about how much this poem, or any poem, can do. It cannot turn sadness to happiness permanently, cannot discharge our moral obligations, cannot turn a “literal small backwater” into a highly symbolic world capital, or an Uncle George into a Raphael. It cannot even emulate extraordinary beauty in nature (no wild seashores here, only little farm animals). It can, though, show “life and the memory of it” in a “minor family relic”:

            the little that we get for free,
            the little of our earthly trust. Not much.
            About the size of our abidance
            along with theirs: the munching cows,
            the iris, crisp and shivering, the water
            still standing from spring freshets,
            the yet-to-be-dismantled elms, the geese.

Art may not be worth a whole life, for Bishop, but it is worth something: “Poem” says how and why, showing us something (as the critic Zach Pickard says) “not valued until we saw someone else valuing it.” Quietly alarming (what if all poems have no more worth than this sketch?), the poem also ends up resolved, if not resigned: devoted to a painting whose cash value is nearly nil, one that few others have cherished, Bishop takes care to limit, as she takes care to show, what value it has.

Devoted to an art that is easy to make, but very hard to make well, and not often prominent (as against, say, films or novels) even when it is made very well, we poets, we critics, we serious readers of poetry too often respond to inconsequence with self-importance: we generate interminable arguments about how much poetry “matters,” about how it can indeed “make something happen.” I do not mean to dismiss all such arguments (I agree with some of them). I do fear that they can lead us to overestimate the powers, and the moral weight, of poetry, and perhaps to neglect other goods, other obligations (including the laundry).

Poetry (such poems as “Poem” imply) isn’t worthless, but it is worth less than many poets and readers believe: however much we like it, it may not merit all the claims it can make on our time. There are more important things. That I feel so—that I think “Poem” says so—does not mean that I want to get you to feel that way too; it means that I want to think about how such feelings manifest themselves in art. If we are to see this feeling for what it is—sometimes oppressive, sometimes unwelcome, sometimes a welcome consequence when a writer with obligations (and not only the obligations that come with a baby) has his or her head screwed on right—we ought to be able to see its aesthetic effects, the ways it can change the art that does get made.

We also need to distinguish those effects from the harsher consequences of material need. For some poets, writing less, writing differently, or taking time out from writing to meet other people’s needs has felt like anything but a choice. When Lorine Niedecker compares her poetry to compelled, repetitive labor (“No layoff / from this / condensery”); when she remembers cleaning “carpets, dishes / benches, fishes / I’ve spent my life on nothing”; when she remembers her “Old Mother” telling her “Give me space. I need / floors. Wash the floors, Lorine!— / wash clothes! Weed!” she is not declaring her poetry, or any poetry, less important than other poets think their poems have been; rather, she is reminding more fortunate readers how much it has cost her, how much it has meant to her, that she makes art at all. Whatever we owe other people, at home and beyond, we owe something—some time and attention—to such poems too.

 

 

The washing machine image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license by LG.

Originally Published: May 12, 2010

COMMENTS (29)

On May 12, 2010 at 4:55pm Chloe Joan Lopez wrote:

I detect a bit of a false choice here. Poetry (or art generally) doesn't have to be a transcendent end in itself, a standard that is probably beyond any human endeavor, in order to be able to justify putting off the laundry for a little while. Just as a child may need things that only a parent give, so a reader may need things only a poem can give. This puts poems well within the moral and social spheres, not beyond them, but also not at the bottom of them. Negotiating those trade-offs is never easy, of course. If "[w]e will be judged on whether we give other people what we owe them," then I will have no choice but to write for the rest of my days. Poems have given me the ability to survive and to endure (more or less) intact; my obligation is to do my best to give that to others. I grant this is not the model of the self-justifying genius. That model has always seemed a bit dotty to me, but maybe there are people who argue seriously for it. But I don't think we need to resort to the model of the self-flagellating eccentric either, which I detect here in the Bishop, Moore, and Auden, and in the Larkin on the linked page.

On May 13, 2010 at 11:58am Monica Youn wrote:
I notice you're bringing up these doubts
only after you got tenure. ;)

On May 13, 2010 at 12:53pm RL wrote:
Yawn. There are things in life more important than poetry (it has take you how long to realize this?) but you spend an entire essay speaking about . . . ?

On May 13, 2010 at 2:09pm Steve wrote:

To Chloe Jean Lopez: you're right: I never said poems were at the bottom, just that they don't seem, to me, at the moment, to belong at the top. And what have you got against self-flagellating eccentrics? Some of my best friends are self-flagellating eccentrics. (Maybe not literally, though I haven't asked.) To Monica: good point.

On May 13, 2010 at 3:02pm Henry Gould wrote:

Critic/philosopher Kenneth Burke somewhere (maybe the essay "Philosophy of Literary Form"?) writes about how the classical symphony is designed to draw the listener into its emotional complexities, & then lightly release the listener in the last 4th movement. The late 19th-cent/20th-cent. "tone poem" was different : the listener was drawn in & just left to hang there. When I read this, I was struck by the idea that you could group Shakespeare's whole oeuvre into some such scheme, with the "light" romances letting the audience down easy (after the tragedies), & finally, with Prospero abjuring his own art at the end ("I'll drown my book"). So maybe poets don't need to belittle their own art entirely. If they recognize its power to obsess & enchant - its hypnotic, fetishistic power - they might figure out how both to take this seriously & find a way to bow out gracefully, too. There is something of this in the dialectical structure of old forms of poetry (the dance-turns of Pindar, the ode, etc.).

On May 13, 2010 at 4:30pm Martine Daly wrote:
Dear Steve.

Thanks for the essay. Children certainly put poetry into perspective.

I would like to ask a question about to hear your esseay writing process, please.

Basically I would love to hear how you went about writing this one; more to discover what is involved in the composition of essays by critics of today, than anything else.

I am fascinated by the creative process and think it would be interesting to get a brewakdown of what's involved. Time spent on writing it; how many breaks etc; is it the exploration of some meta-theme that links into other essays and generally, jst being a bit nosy and would love to hear how you go about it, please.

Thanks very much.

On May 13, 2010 at 11:02pm Taimur Khan wrote:

I wonder how Emily Dickinson, Ghalib (the great Urdu language poet), or Rilke would respond to this... huu;N mai;N bhii tamaashaa))ii-e nairang-e tamannaa ma:tlab nahii;N kuchh is se kih ma:tlab hii bar aave even I am a spectator of the marvel of longing from this there’s not any intention that only intention would come to fruition. –Ghalib

On May 15, 2010 at 4:37pm Robin Tremblay-McGaw wrote:
Another factor for those artists/writers who deem poetry or whatever their artform not as important as other things--being a decent human being, taking care of the kids, and/or working for social change, climate control, etc.,--is the slow production of their work and then perhaps also the limited circulation of it. Because if there is little time to make art then, often there is little time left to distribute it. Anyway, a significant issue for the group of Bay Area writers I wrote about in my dissertation. Some went on to great notoriety and others little and much of this had to do with the effort put into the "career" aspect of their writing lives. For some of these writers, like Bruce Boone, younger writers have taken up the work to see that this work reaches a wider audience.

Also, as gender roles have shifted, perhaps male writers/artists/academics are beginning to take note of this issue. I mean, in the past, for many men, there was someone at home, paid or not, who took care of the daily necessities while they pursued their intellectual and creative lives. Of course, as Aife Murray writes in her fabulous book Maid as Muse (see www.xpoetics.blogspot.com for a little note on this book), some women of means also could afford to have assistance with such necessities. So, the social context, as always exerting force.

On May 17, 2010 at 3:48pm Mr. Friendly wrote:
Way too many parentheses in this essay.

On May 20, 2010 at 9:13am ED wrote:
A poet, esp. a young poet, has to believe that there is nothing more important than poetry. Otherwise, the stuff will never get written at all. At some point, a poet gets older and faces more responsibilities, and, yes, poetry becomes "less" important, not to the world, but to the poet. Hence: Dr. Burt, c. age 40.

If you want, however, the best take on poetry v. life experience, take a look at a sorely overlooked recent volume: The Importance of Peeling Potatoes in Ukraine by Mark Yakich.

On May 21, 2010 at 5:10am Timothy Turner wrote:

Does a poem have value, if no one besides the author ever reads it, or knows it exists? Does it still have a life? Poetry, has a value outside the judgement of human beings. So does art. Strangely, I don’t think art, or poetry in this case, needs us. (Our judgements of value, to be valuable.) The author is making the mistake of believing he has the ability to assess the value of poetry, and then with this fabricated value, places poetry into a hierarchy of value, which art and poetry do not exist in the first place. They never have. Poetry doesn’t need your value judgement, or the assessment of anyone, to have value. It can live without it.

On May 21, 2010 at 8:45am John Gallaher wrote:

There are, of course, things more important than other things - in general. A nice big picture perspective. But it, if actually followed, would keep us from all the less important things that become over time a category of also important things. In John Lennon's phrase, it's: "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." "Important" is a dangerous label to put on something. Especially if one has to drive one's children to daycare on the way to work, and then get the message later that the child went through some milestone while there: walking maybe, or using the potty, or saying something profound . . . which is more important? I think the less important aspects of life (art, etc) keep us in contact with that which is beyond our control. It helps us life longer and with a measure of foregrounded uncertainty, of thinkiness. Is it more important to read this poem or to sleep an extra fifteen minutes or to volunteer at a hospice care house? Ouch, it's important to keep in mind that all fiddling is not fiddling, and that poetry is at least as important as SUDOKU.

On May 21, 2010 at 5:30pm adam strauss wrote:
I agree that poetry really isn't some sacred cow (I love cows and tho I am not Hindu certainly see them as sublime); "at the end of the day"--or evening--it's simply a field I really enjoy; and enjoyment is important!

On May 24, 2010 at 7:03pm Baltimore Poet wrote:

Then don't read poetry or spend "time" on it. Oh, I forgot, you are a professor and it is a job. Therefore, do your job or quit. For the rest of us in the world, poetry is something that I at least chose to enjoy. Is it more important than a good meal and holding my daughter in the morning? My life would be less meaningful without poetry. There is not gun to my head and so I do not have to choose. I am not against the professor / MFA system. However, these false questions would not be coming is most poets today had either 1) economically supporting fame or 2) a day job. Poetry is necessary, see Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet. As the person above stated, Rilke would not entertain this essay much. Poetry magazine is doing a disservice to the poetry that matters that is being written now by always featuring the poets and critics who are naysayers, bored, disaffected.

On May 24, 2010 at 8:11pm Jay wrote:
Personally, I agree. I love poetry. But, a blacksmith can create armor to protect himself from a bullet. A poet's words cannot.

On May 25, 2010 at 6:43am Weidenborner wrote:

It all depends on your viewpoint: A world without belief in the value of poetry, is a world that isn't worth living in, in my opinion. The face of art has been slashed by modernity and the liberalising of its definition. The approach to this essay is very near sighted which is a reflection of the times. Your viewpoint lacks any perspective other than your own, despite your numerous references to other poets. Questions I'm left with are: What is the importance of clean laundry? What is the importance of raising your children to be responsible individuals? What is the importance of anything? I think poetry's holds the anwer to all these questions.

On May 27, 2010 at 2:21pm Shyla wrote:
A pity. You could have been doing laundry instead of spending time and energy on an essay about why poetry isn't worth a lot of time. Better yet, you could have been reading or writing poetry.

Also, if poetry is not worth much time, why should anyone care "how much it has cost her [the poet], how much it has meant to her, that she makes art at all"? That puts no burden on me to read someone's poems.

On May 27, 2010 at 11:52pm Fielding Yeats wrote:
Where are these poets, read by poets, whose work today pretends toward such ambition? Don't we already live in an age drained of such claims and such emotion?

Mr. Burt, is the measure of art, use?

On May 29, 2010 at 3:25pm Aaron Carico wrote:

All that we can say is that everything is arranged in this life as though we entered it carrying the burden of obligations contracted in a former life; there is no reason inherent in the conditions of life on this earth that can make us consider ourselves obliged to do good, to be fastidious, to be polite even, nor make the talented artist consider himself obliged to begin over again a score of times a piece of work the admiration aroused by which will matter little to his body devoured by worms, like the patch of yellow wall painted with so much knowledge and skill by an artist who must for ever remain unknown and is barely identified under the name Vermeer. All these obligations which have not their sanction in our present life seem to belong to a different world, founded upon kindness, scrupulosity, self-sacrifice, a world entirely different from this, which we leave in order to be born into this world, before perhaps returning to the other to live once again beneath the sway of those unknown laws which we have obeyed because we bore their precepts in our hearts, knowing not whose hand had traced them there--those laws to which every profound work of the intellect brings us nearer and which are invisible only--and still!--to fools.

On June 1, 2010 at 8:14am relsek wrote:
Thanks for this thoughtful essay. I read it in context of the many essays Poetry magazine seems to have a prediliction for--those that carp and natter, often among several poets, about the nature and importance of poetry and its audience. Burt's essay stresses the essentially private nature of the composition and reading of poetry, much to its credit.

On June 7, 2010 at 7:10pm bruce wrote:

I should think that anyone who has to spend even the slightest of moments contemplating the relative importance of poetry vs. laundry, or poetry vs any other sort of "chore" should quite likely not even consider writing poetry. Frankly, I would have to say that almost 98% of all poetry written today, and certainly all poetry published today, would have been better left unwritten. If, as Robinson Jeffers said, that poetry should speak about things which would matter to those living a thousand years from today, then hardly a poem has been written in the last 50+ years , so what difference could another completed load of laundry make?

On June 12, 2010 at 10:14am Baltimore Poet wrote:
I absolutely agree with the criteria used by the poster above, Bruce, above. I just have to say, personally, there are some wonderful poems written in the last 50 years that are worth a glance: a few include Philip Levine's Walking With Tom Jefferson, Adrienne Rich's Usonian Journals 2000, and Jack Gilbert's A Brief for the Defense off the top of my head; Major Jackson, Natasha Treadway, Louise Gluck (check out her books Rose and A Village Life); the list can well go on.

In terms of this essay, however, the phrase in the poem quoted in the essay "little golden / extents" is quite clever, but it is simply one thought. If that were all poetry could be, laundry may very well loom in stature. Laundry, yes I dare say, has its pleasures of completeness and cleanliness.

Nevertheless, compare that single phrase to all the ideas in W.B. Yeats' Sailing to Bzyantium; in Yeats' horn of plenty we find poetry to reverberate, inspire, confuse, trouble, astonish, delight, tantalize, and come back to. Yeats' poetry (and I read though his collected last summer and fall, 2009, offers multiple thoughts and echoes per line, as well as phrasal surprise, craftsmanship, melody, and beauty; plus social criticism, mythology, personal emotion, personal heartbreak).

Clearly, Burt who as a critic and professor is making a name for himself writing about 'new' poetry, well, he is saying something about his reading choices as the joyful struggles of fatherhood and laundry derange his focus. Of course, he also supports his family through his career, so poetry is his day job, and that aspect is totally left out of this essay. For those, say like T.S. Eliot, who worked at a bank and forfeited inheritance to marry and stay in London, well, Eliot chose to write essays and poetry at night.... If he had chosen laundry, the poetry world would be less--and yet there are many other poets of that era to delight us. It's a personal choice, reading and writing.

On July 1, 2010 at 2:00am JJB wrote:
As far as I'm concerned, George
Santayana answered this question in 1896.

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/26842/2684
2-h/26842-h.htm#04

On July 24, 2010 at 1:07pm Kristen M Grimm wrote:
Let us not censure the artist by policing the motives of the writer. Policing the motive of any artist lingers with the potential hazard of "creative" tyranny. None of our motives are pure. The sooner we realize this, the more we will rest within the comforting awareness of our literary "depravity."

On November 18, 2010 at 7:52am Jenbell wrote:

I appreciate Burt's ideas, as well as the fact that Poetry magazine is willing to air thoughts that raise doubts about its own place in the world. Faith in poetry is rather like faith in God, as I see it: testing that faith through questioning and moments of disillusionment is a crucial part of the faith itself, and should not be equated to sacrilege. Questions about the relative value of poetry are worthwhile ones to consider. I feel like a lot of poetry being written today is, in fact, writing about itself and its own relative value. We, as a society, are clearly disappointed in the powers of our own cleverness. But let's be fair to Mr. Burt - clearly the laundry analogy is just a device. Asking "Which is more important?" is reductive, but his point is more complex, and insightful. At what point do we or should we close the book, turn off the computer, put down the pen, and attend to "real life"? It's quite possible to hold up poetry as a transcendent art worthy of our time, but to simultaneously be able to keep ourselves out of a state of filth. The bigger question, as I read it, is how seriously the poetry takes itself. I beg to differ with Mr. Turner. I think poetry needs us very badly. Without readers or viewers to judge (harshly, as they usually do), I believe art is meaningless, the proverbial tree in the woods with no one there to hear it fall.

On March 14, 2011 at 2:44am jaffray geddes wrote:
I have used poetry-making merely as a
vehicle of expression. Sure, I have been published in the best mags alongwith poets who consider themselves the elite, Most of all, I write
it for my pleasure, I see nothing in it to spend hours with huge reviews and raves, nor do I consider poetry a teachable subject, the simple definition of a poet is someone who writes! I have
much enjoyment in life reading people like Cafavy and others like him who can write profoundities. Its a simple art
sadly monopolized by academics. Really, I don't give a damn who says what about one poem or the other.

On May 7, 2011 at 8:58am Cathy wrote:
That's all very well but writing poetry makes me happy. I've experienced the alternative and that makes it all seem very important, more important than children's squabbles and clean work surfaces. I am a resentful mother and a very bad wife and so full of relief. I like feeling happy. It is important to me and I am happy to the pay price of being called self-important if that's what the price is. I think Heaney would approve, having just read St Kevin and the Black Bird.

On December 20, 2011 at 10:50am Shelley Shaver wrote:
Ah, but it's all the same thing:

"Oh, let there be nothing on earth but laundry"

Richard Wilbur, Love Calls Us to the Things of This World

Poetry may not matter to action; but it matters to attention.

Shelley Shaver

On January 1, 2014 at 10:34pm joe wrote:
Surely poetry has no intrinsic, exact measure of importance because it, like everything, does not exist in isolation. It is of varying importance to different people, depending on the role it plays and the affect it has on their lives.

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 Stephen  Burt

Biography

Stephen Burt is a poet, literary critic, and professor. In 2012, the New York Times called Burt “one of the most influential poetry critics of his generation.” He grew up around Washington, DC and earned a BA from Harvard and PhD from Yale. Burt has published three collections of poems: Belmont (2013), Parallel Play (2006), and Popular Music (1999).

Burt's works of criticism include Close Calls with Nonsense: Reading New Poetry . . .

Continue reading this biography

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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