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Occasioning Poetry

By Annie Finch

I was recently asked to write a poem for the inauguration of my university’s president, and I read it at the ceremony last weekend.  This gratifying experience got me thinking about the place of occasional poetry in our culture.

goethe-italy Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Ever since Wordsworth accepted the British poet laureate appointment only on condition that he wouldn’t have to write occasional poems, even poets laureate (with the exception of Andrew Motion) are generally not interested in writing occasional poetry.  Has a U.S. poet laureate ever written an occasional poem? Conceivably not, since the post is a 20th century invention in this country.

Unlike Motion, who says that being poet laureate has given him writer’s block (presumably because of the occasional poetry he’s felt obligated to write), I have long found writing occasional poetry to be quite inspiring.  For some time, I have felt drawn to write poems for such occasions as a wedding, anniversary, memorial service, baby-naming ceremony, valentine’s day, solstices and equinoxes, and so on, and have been happy to write public poetry for the dedication of a library, the wall of a café, the window of the Grolier bookstore, and most recently, said inauguration of a university president.  And, contrary to the stereotype of occasional poems that Motion has validated, I think of most of these poems as genuine poems and publish them alongside the others.

Occasional poetry provides me with the opportunity to address a wider audience. I am gratified when someone, perhaps especially someone who doesn’t often read poetry, is moved by what I’ve written. I enjoy the aesthetic challenge of using the traditional tools of the public poem—meter, rhyme, and accessible language—while maintaining a contemporary consciousness and literary standards.  I am often genuinely inspired by the very occasionalness of occasions—they are something I want to write about.  And, not least, particularly since becoming a parent, I’ve found that promising poems to others provides an invincible motivation to finish a poem by a certain date.

I was pleased to see a Goethe quote recently to the effect that occasional poetry is “the first and most genuine of all poetic genres.” That seems right to me. And then there is the challenge of making an occasional poem “real”; as in the story of the Velveteen rabbit, what makes it real seems to be some kind of roughness, the strength involved in wrestling the conventional treatment of the theme down and allowing the genuine to shine through.  I’ll be thinking about this a lot over the next few weeks, as I wrestle with the ode to my class I’ll be reading at my upcoming undergraduate reunion.

Comments (33)

  • On April 30, 2009 at 12:22 am Terreson wrote:

    Bless your heart, Annie Finch. Goethe’s notion of the occassional poem, poem written to the occassion, was a young man notion. As a young man Goethe was notoriously immature. Really immature. The word he used for the occassional poem was Gelegenheitsgeditcht. Later in life he would still call the occassional poem “the first and most genuine of all poetic genres.” But also later in life he had a caveat. He said that the occassional poem could only be esteemed by a “society that respected the noble and independent vocation of the poet.” He got that his own time and place, late 18th C Germany, did not, could not, would not.

    Terreson

  • On April 30, 2009 at 8:06 am Annie Finch wrote:

    “He said that the occassional poem could only be esteemed by a “society that respected the noble and independent vocation of the poet.”” That’s an inspiring caveat, Terreson.

  • On April 30, 2009 at 1:19 pm Jane Raeburn wrote:

    Annie, is your university-president poem available online? I would like to read it.

  • On April 30, 2009 at 3:12 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Annie,

    My favorite is Auden’s wonderful UNDER WHICH LYRE? A Reactionary Tract For The Times (Phi Beta Kappa Poem, Harvard, 1946).

    Thomas

  • On April 30, 2009 at 3:50 pm Annie Finch wrote:

    Jane, here’s a link to the poem:
    http://www.usm.maine.edu/pres/inauguration/poem.html

    Thomas, thanks for mentioning “Under Which Lyre?” — a brilliant example of an ironic solution to the occasional-poem challenge.

  • On May 2, 2009 at 8:03 pm mearl wrote:

    Annie, sorry for arriving late to this thread, but I wanted to second Thomas. Auden thought it an essential skill in the poet’s arsenal to be able to write occasional poetry, and, besides the wonderful “Under Which Lyre” that he mentions, some of his major poems were “occasional”. “Letter to Lord Byron” (1936), a long sequence in rhyme royal started out as a commissioned piece of journalism, a travel sketch of a trip to Iceland. And of course, for the Latin poets this was one of their principal modes. Robert Lowell seems, especially in his sonnets to be always straddling the sharp edge between personal lyric and occasional (or public) poetry, and often he merged the two, using the private to reflect the public and vice versa.

    Question: why did our most recent and famous occasional poem (Elizabeth Alexander’s inauguration poem) fail so completely, both as poetry and as a public act?

    Was it bad, hackneyed poetry?

    Was it the way she read it?

    Or is the public discourse simply too formulaic to include poetry as a legitimate partner?

    I hope people will pick this thread up again, and I wish I had gotten here earlier. In a certain way, the Poetry Foundation, by attempting to bring poetry closer to a non-specialized public, is trying to intersect with the lives of the general reader. Since our lives are ever more “occasional”, and the private and public seem to be merging in new ways, I think Auden’s notion that poets should be more like journalists has a place in the way we move forward.

    Martin

  • On May 3, 2009 at 3:33 am john wrote:

    I was listening to Schubert’s “Trout” quintet today and thought of your post, Annie, because not only was this piece — usually considered a masterpiece of chamber music — an occasional piece — it was a party piece! Schubert was going to be weekending somewhere with friends, and the host asked him to write something they could all play together, and “could you use that theme from your song ‘The Trout’?”, hence, the quintet’s title. And I thought of a song that the Gershwins wrote solely to play at parties (“Mischa, Jascha, Sascha, Tascha”) — parties where they were guests, not featured performers — and a 4-handed piano piece that Ellington and Strayhorn wrote to play together at parties, again, as guests (“Tonk”). And then I remembered that a lot of the classical repertory before 1750 and quite a bit after was “occasional” — written for church services, weddings, funerals.

    I love being asked to write a song for an occasion, or just doing it without asking. Have written songs for two weddings and numerous less weighty occasions — always an honor to be asked.

    I liked the punning of “one,” “turn,” “universe,” and “university” in your poem, Annie. “The universe is a single line of poetry.”

    Martin’s question haunts, though I would put it differently. What can a public role for poetry be when so few people have any experience of poetry at all? And, for those of us who do have experience of poetry — who love poetry — what would we want a public experience of poetry to be? I think your solution, Annie, is pretty good — something rhyming, regularly rhythmic, and optimistic for a hopeful occasion.

    What would you want a public experience of poetry to be, Martin? My own bent would be toward the oratorical tradition, something pitched to the emotion(s) of the occasion and that could be declaimed.

  • On May 3, 2009 at 10:30 am thomas brady wrote:

    Martin,

    I do think Elizabeth Alexander dropped the ball, and it would be interesting to explore why ‘occasional poetry’ is not much of an American phenomenon.

    I think the reasons are two-fold.

    The first one is America’s radical nature; our first canonical poets provide a clue.

    Here’s William Cullen Bryant writing on the death of Lincoln, as requested by the Committee of Arrangements for the ceremony in New York:

    Thy task is done; the bond are free:
    We bear thee to an honored grave,
    Whose proudest monument shall be
    The broken fetters of the slave.

    ‘Occasional poetry’ requires a certain ‘anniversary obervant conservativism.’ But if, almost from the beginning of this country, our ‘proudest monument’ is ‘the broken fetters of the slave,’ one begins to see how this essentially radical nature, here expressed by one of America’s first and most august poets, leads to a separation of poetry and state.

    A separation such as this, brought on my circumstances more than national temper, perhaps, but still making its iron mark, makes canonical ‘occasional poetry’ difficult, I would think.

    The glory of our revolution and the story-telling poetry of Longfellow made ‘occasional poetry’ a pretty big deal for awhile, and the best poem the radical preacher Ralph Waldo Emerson ever jingled (and he was basically a pretty poor jingler) was his Concord Hymn, a commemorative poem:
    “By the rude bridge…fired the shot heard round the world.” Emerson hit a homerun with that one, but thereafter he became a kind of Zarathustra, a madman, really, of radical impulses.

    Sure, Emerson made the ultimate appeal for the mingling of poetry and state when he wrote the poet is the “complete man” who “apprises us not of his wealth, but of the commonwealth,” and this is all well and good to say, but Emerson wasn’t able to do it, for he became too much the radical essayist, finally influencing Nietzsche more than anyone else; no one could sing of ‘the commonwealth’ after the Civil War fell on us like a flood (Whitman had little impact on American thought in the 19th century; he was rescued after the fact by art cults later and bloomed in 20th century academia, very much as an outsider poet, not an occasional poet.)

    The first reason, then, is that American Letters was born of radicalism, and the second reason is that America’s greatest aesthetic influence in the 19th century was Poe, who separated art from the state explicitly, not because he was a dreamer (Poe is falsified by this just as Plato is–these men were pragmatists all the way) but just in terms of division of labor; Poe said just because America now has locomotives doesn’t mean she can’t write poetry; for the moment she is preoccupied with the necessity of building locomotives and this is no need to 1) despair that locomotives will destroy poetry 2) write poetry on locomotives. Poe didn’t write for monuments, but he once deconstructed the words on a monument showing how absolutely wretched the monument’s grammar and syntax were.

    Between the radicalism of ‘broken fetters’ on one hand, and the pragmatism of grammatically correct monuments on the other, America never really stood a chance.

    In the 20th century, along come the radical Moderns and the difficult New Critics, absorbing both Emerson and Poe in an underground fashion, and the game is over.

    Can you imagine T.S. Eliot giving an address for a commencement ceremony? “June is the cruelest month.” Or, “we professors up here giving you these degrees are the hollow men…” Or WC Williams? “So much depends on the white chickens next to these graduates…” Or Creeley? “So I sd watch out” Or Berryman? “Graduating class of 1959, life is boring, we must not say so…” Try it with any of your favorite modern poets, and you’ll see what I mean. The sly and the radical does not provide a fertile field for occasional poetry.

    This may all not be a bad thing, mind you, but it does indicate the problem Ms. Alexander was facing in 2009.

    John,

    I only have one quibble with what you say. How can you say “so few people have any experience of poetry at all…”? Poetry is slightly elevated speech; I would posit that anyone who speaks can recognize poetry immediately; even a child would recognize it, a child who recognizes the difference between a parent’s command and the nonsense she (the child) sings to herself alone in her room–I imagine a poem would sound to that child like a weird combination of both.

    Thomas

  • On May 3, 2009 at 9:56 pm Annie FInch wrote:

    Martin, thanks for bringing in more of the great traditions of occasional poetry–and John, thanks for bringing in music.

    Thomas, modernism and occasional poetry do seem to be like oil and water. So here’s a question for you. Does the weird combination which your hypothetical child understands poetry to be (and which seems quite an apt analogy) encompass both the oil and the water, Eliot’s hermeticism and public poetry, equally?

  • On May 4, 2009 at 2:04 am john wrote:

    Thomas, Thanks for mentioning Whitman and Lincoln. I reread “O Captain, My Captain” this morning and was surprised to find it inspiring tears — the intensity of Whitman’s love and grief. He had no idea how difficult reconstruction would be, but the poem is real.

    You’re right that I exaggerated when I said that few people have any experience of poetry. Few people seek it out, though.

    Annie and Martin, I’m glad you mentioned both public and private occasions. And the Latin poets remind us that, historically, lyric poetry has rarely been anything other than occasional — “odi et amo” typically being specific occasions, the occasions have more often been private than public.

  • On May 4, 2009 at 9:28 am thomas brady wrote:

    John,

    I’ll probably get in trouble for saying this, but “O, Captain, My Captain!” is Whitmans’ best poem, and it is a Whitman poem, you can feel Whitman in it, but we are not supposed to like it, really, because it’s a so-called ‘anthology piece’ or “Quietist” poem, according to Silliman.

    I would also like to make my opinion public on the following: “Quietism” is a ridiculous category for so many reasons. Has Harriet ever discussed this absurdity?

    Thomas

  • On May 4, 2009 at 9:49 am thomas brady wrote:

    “Thomas, modernism and occasional poetry do seem to be like oil and water. So here’s a question for you. Does the weird combination which your hypothetical child understands poetry to be (and which seems quite an apt analogy) encompass both the oil and the water, Eliot’s hermeticism and public poetry, equally?”

    Annie,

    Yes.

    But I’m not satisfied there MUST be this oil/water division, and it is in our interest, I think, to resolve public and private spheres: this is precisely poetry’s mission, in some sense; personally, I’d start by pulling the crab Eliot from his shell–even if it makes Wordsworth swoon and causes Helen Vendler to drop her Wallace Stevens.
    This “difficulty” nonsense needs to be examined for what it is.

    Here is my ‘hypothetical child’ expressed by a better mind than my own:

    “A child at play by itself will express its delight by its voice and motions; and every inflexion of tone and every gesture will bear exact relation to a corresponding antitype in the pleasurable impressions which awakened it; it will be the reflected image of that impression; and as the lyre trembles and sounds after the wind has died away, so the child seeks, by prolonging in its voice and motions the duration of the effect, to prolong also a consciousness of the cause. In relation to the objects which delight a child these expressions are what poetry is to higher objects. The savage (for the savage is to ages what the child is to years) expresses the emotions produced in him by surrounding objects in a similar manner; and language and gesture, together with plastic or pictorial imitation, become the image of the combined effect of those objects, and of his apprehension of them. Man in society, with all his passions and his pleasures, next becomes the object of the passions and pleasures of man; an additional class of emotions produces an augmented treasure of expressions; and language, gesture, and the imitative arts, become at once the representation and the medium, the pencil and the picture, the chisel and the statute, the chord and the harmony. The social sympathies, or those laws from which, as from its elements, society results, begin to develop themselves from the moment that two human beings coexist; the future is contained within the present, as the plant within the seed; and equality, diversity, unity, contrast, mutual dependence, become the principles alone capable of affording the motives according to which the will of a social being is determined to action, inasmuch as he is social; and constitute pleasure in sensation, virtue in sentiment, beauty in art, truth in reasoning, and love in the intercourse of kind. Hence men, even in the infancy of society, observe a certain order in their words and actions, distinct from that of the objects and the impressions represented by them, all expression being subject to the laws of that from which it proceeds.”

    Shelley, ‘A Defense of Poetry’

  • On May 4, 2009 at 11:47 am Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    “I would also like to make my opinion public on the following: “Quietism” is a ridiculous category for so many reasons. Has Harriet ever discussed this absurdity?”
    – Thomas Brady

    Welcome back to Earth, Thomas. How was your voyage? Did you manage to get out of the solar system? :-)

    Since you bring it up, here is my most recent post at Silliman’s blog:

    Gary B. Fitzgerald said…

    Well put, Mr. Faville, and I tend to agree. I’ll give you this one. I happen to love Joyce.

    I’m not promoting idiocy or nursery rhymes, here, just clarity. As I’m sure you’re aware, I’m not the only one who has issues with contemporary ‘elliptical’ and ‘dissociative’ poetry.

    However…RS has invented the term ‘SoQ’. Allow me to invent one:

    ‘CoI’

    College of Incomprehensibility.

  • On May 4, 2009 at 12:45 pm Don Share wrote:

    Since you asked, sort of…

    Ron Silliman recently showed that “quietism” has its roots in the methodology of Jones Very, Sidney Lanier, and… James Russell Lowell. But ironically, the term “School of Quietude” comes from Edgar Allan Poe – and Poe quite admired James Russell Lowell, as you can see from a review essay (Graham’s Magazine, March 1844, pp. 142-143; full text available on request) in which he says that Lowell “has given evidence of at least as high poetical genius as any man in America.” Me, I’m not too crazy about J.R.’s stuff, but I’m no Poe, that’s for sure!

    No put down of Poe intended; I’m just pointing out an oddity behind Ron’s deployment of the term…

  • On May 4, 2009 at 3:39 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Don,

    I was curious where Silliman got his “Quietude” label: Quietism? The 17th century (essentially) subversive movement within the Catholic church?

    I also recalled Poe’s review of Hawthorne’s “Twice Told Tales” (1842). Looking at Poe’s review of Lowell (Graham’s 1844) I saw no mention of quietude. I’m not aware that Poe specifically spoke of a “School of Quietude.” Any further information here would be great.

    I’ll quote Poe’s 1842 Hawthorne review. Misreading Poe is perhaps the most ubiquitous practice in all of literature.

    First, Silliman, which thanks to your remarks, led me to this:

    “School of Quietude is more complex, I think. The phrase itself was coined by Edgar Allen Poe in the 1840s to note the inherent caution that dominates the conservative institutional traditions in American writing.” –Silliman, 2004

    “Caution that dominates the conservative institutional traditions in American writing” is not Poe, but Silliman misreading Poe.

    Here is Poe on the shorter tales (Poe calls them ‘essays’ of Hawthorne):

    “They are each and all beautiful, without being characterised by the polish and adaptation so visible in the tales proper. A painter would at once note their leading or predominant feature, and style it repose. There is no attempt [at] effect. All is quiet, thoughtful, subdued. Yet this repose may exist simultaneously with high originality of thought; and Mr. Hawthorne has demonstrated the fact. At every turn we meet with novel combinations; yet these combinations never surpass the limits of the quiet. We are soothed as we real; and withal is a calm astonishment that ideas so apparently obvious have never occurred or been presented to us before. Herein our author differs materially from Lamb or Hunt or Hazlitt — who, with vivid originality of manner and expression, have less of the true novelty of thought than is general supposed, and whose originality, at best, has an uneasy [or] meretricious quaintness, replete with startling effects unfounded in nature, and inducing trains of reflection which lead to no satisfactory result.” Poe, 1842

    If this is all we’ve got, then Poe never advertised any “conservative” or “cautious” tradition.

    My point is that Poe is more complex and the so-called “School of Quietude”–as Silliman understands it–is more complex than Silliman’s “post-avant” prejudice would have it. (I understand Silliman makes all sorts of qualifications & apologies for his categories, but his broad intention is clear.)

    I do appreciate your help. Thanks, again.

    Thomas

  • On May 4, 2009 at 3:49 pm Don Share wrote:

    Thomas, (and thank you!)

    For other folks – a link to Ron’s quote:
    http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88v/silliman-categories.html

    I can only imagine Ron got the quietude business from this:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=T2NqEp1lFn0C&pg=RA2-PA148&dq=poe+quietude

    (the hermit home of quietude, etc.)

    &/or this:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=yxE_TGVQn74C&pg=PA178&dq=poe+quietude&lr=

    Quietude, but not “school of…”

  • On May 4, 2009 at 4:15 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Gary,

    “College of Incomprehensibility.”

    Yes, the Silliman “post avants” are beyond mere “school.” They have ‘gone on’ to doctoral study level in the field of incomprehensibility. They are learned in incomprehensibility! They know more of incomprehensibility than you or I could ever hope to know! Their knowledge of incomprehensibility is gigantic! And their understanding of incomprehensibility is topical and up-to-date!

    Tell Mr. Faville we love him very much!

    Thomas

  • On May 4, 2009 at 4:44 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Don,

    The “quietude” passage of Dawes was one which Poe approved, in pure aesthetic terms.

    But in your second example: Poe’s response to Tuckerman re: “quiet” is much closer in spirit, perhaps, to Silliman’s category, and here I think, Don, you have really found something, (obscure though it is, and referring to no ‘school of quietude.’) Bravo.

    Tuckerman’s use of ‘quiet’ re: Poe, pretty much indicates to me that he (Tuckerman) found Poe to be obstreperous and rude. Poe responds as he often does, here, by couching the debate in terms of simple p.r.–if Tuckerman persists in his love of ‘quietude’ he will bring a ‘quietus’ (a death) upon himself in terms of a public following, etc etc. Here is that ‘Poe playing to the literary market’ which so many (see Lepore, etc) find to be…well… rude.

    But here we see that Silliman is again in the wrong, since ‘The School of Quietude’ as he (Silliman) has defined it, gets MORE attention, publications and prizes than his marginalized and unrecognized School of “post avants,” but as Poe has defined ‘The School of Quietude,’ it gets LESS.

    Thomas

  • On May 4, 2009 at 4:50 pm Don Share wrote:

    That’s a darn good analysis, Thomas!

  • On May 4, 2009 at 7:03 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Don,

    Thanks, it was all due to you.

    Poe, I’ve found, is a useful antidote to a snippy, snobby type of literary billingsgate. A good dose of Poe tends to separate out common sense from owlish fakery, and Silliman, as valuable as he is as a literary compiler, smells very much to me like owlish fakery, the kind associated with “post avantism” and its crowded delusions of revolutionary relevance.

    Thomas

  • On May 4, 2009 at 8:14 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Jeez…I hope I don’t have to wait another 200 years like Edgar did for someone to pick up on it. :-)

  • On May 4, 2009 at 8:36 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    This may not be the proper time or place, but I need to get this off my chest.

    I think this new ‘reply to sender’ thing, where I now have to remember not only exactly what post I was following but even the specific reply on it I want to find, is going to drive me absolutely, freakin’ nuts!

    Just an observation.

    Carry on, gents.

  • On May 4, 2009 at 9:14 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Gary,

    I think the rule is this.

    1. On-topic, use the comments board.

    2. Somewhat off-topic, use ‘reply.’

    3. Way off-topic, just have another drink.

    Thomas

  • On May 4, 2009 at 9:43 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Tell me, Thomas…did you notice my reply to you on May 4, 2009 at 8:14 pm to your reply to me on May 4, 2009 at 4:15 pm to my reply to you on May 4, 2009 at 11:47 am to your reply to John on May 4, 2009 at 9:28 to John’s post on May 4, 2009 at 2:04 am?

    Yes, I think I’ll go have another drink.

  • On May 4, 2009 at 11:00 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Gary,

    The ‘recent comments’ feature is helpful in this regard. Also, you can mentally note the number of comments in the five or six active post-threads and note if they change, and then check them. I don’t find it that difficult to stay abreast of what’s happening.

    OK, this is late for me. G’nite.

    Thomas

  • On May 4, 2009 at 11:26 pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:

    Twit!

  • On May 5, 2009 at 8:08 am thomas brady wrote:

    A sleeping twit can do no harm.

  • On May 8, 2009 at 1:39 pm Annie Finch wrote:

    Tom, do you mean to pull Eliot from his shell in the sense of reinstating his reputation among the postmodernsists? I think that process may be underway already, based on a talk I heard Marjorie Perloff give a few years back.

  • On May 8, 2009 at 1:42 pm Annie Finch wrote:

    Using Don’s wonderful sleuthing in Poe as a resource, I’ve written to Ron S. and asked him the source of the phrase. Needless to say, I’ll let y’all know what he says. It’s exciting to think that may be about to uncover a new layer in the SoQ archaelogical site.

  • On May 8, 2009 at 2:26 pm john wrote:

    Thanks for doing that, Annie — will be curious to see what he says! Silliman may have coined the term, using Poe as a source but adding his own schoolish varnish.

    “Tranquility,” “repose” — the “school of quietude” refers to Zen poetry, right? Certainly Silliman can’t be talking about Robert Lowell or . . . Robert Bly ?!?!?!!!! Adrienne Rich ?!?!?!!!!!!

    Silliman’s sobriquet is patent nonsense — pure pot-stirring polemic, unworthy and unthinking. To try to make sense of it as anything other than “stuff Silliman doesn’t like” is to put oneself into metaphysical pretzels. Faith-based polemics.

  • On May 8, 2009 at 3:06 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Annie,

    Thanks for pursuing this. You’re the best!

    I agree Don’s sleuthing was impressive.

    Ron’ll probably say he doesn’t remember the exact source, and I’m guessing this because Ron said

    http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88v/silliman-categories.html

    “coined by Poe in the 1840s” and Poe wrote tons of stuff between 1840 and 1849.

    Poe is a banner for many political/aesthetic views; Ron here uses Poe as a cudgel against (in Ron’s words) the “inherent caution” of literary institutional life, which begs the question, ‘caution’ towards what?

    Ron, as a good radical, would probably say ‘change,’ but the problem with Ron using Poe to define ‘The School of Quietude’ as status quo conservativism is that Poe feared French Revolution radicalism as much as he feared status quo puffing or aesthetic laziness. Poe had no problem with a certain amount of “inherent caution.” Poe simply can’t be defined by broad categories like ‘caution’ or ‘change,’ which avants like Ron tend to do.

    Just one more important point. I can think of nothing more ‘quiet,’ for instance, than the poetry of John Ashbery, or many of these incomprehensible avant poets. Therefore, this leads me to suppose Ron’s ‘quiet’ is political, not aesthetic.

    Not that Ron can’t have his category. Nothing against Ron, but I’m more interested, really, in that people get Poe right.

    Thomas

  • On May 11, 2009 at 4:41 pm Jim Fisher wrote:

    Annie,

    It’s possible you saw that Goethe quote about occasional poetry being “the highest kind” in an essay I published in Salon a few weeks before Obama’s inauguration, “How to Write a Poem for the President.”

    Since then, I’ve learned that this is a misquote of Goethe that shows up in letters between Ashbery and O’Hara. What Goethe really wrote, as Terreson correctly notes in this thread’s first comment, is that occasional poetry is “the first and most genuine of all poetic genres.”

    Now that Elizabeth Alexander’s poem has come and gone, I’ll say that I too was underwhelmed, though my expectations weren’t high to begin with. But I was surprised and moved by “New Year, 2009,” a poem written for Obama’s inauguration by Gillian Clarke, national poet of Wales:

    http://www.academi.org/home/i/133780/

    How sweet to have heard EA recite -that- at the inaugural ceremony, with Dick Cheney in a wheelchair behind her!

    But it’s unlikely that would ever happen, because the poem is just too partisan. Which goes back to my arguments against occasional poetry in the first place.

    Here’s a link:

    http://www.salon.com/books/feature/2009/01/15/inauguration_poem/index.html

    Jim

  • On May 11, 2009 at 6:14 pm Annie Finch wrote:

    Jim, yes, I think that’s where I first saw it, and it’s good to have the correction.

    “the first and most genuine of all poetic genres.”

    I’ll change it in the post.

    Also, many thanks for the tip on the Clarke poem. It’s very moving, especially the ending. I would have loved to hear it on inauguration day, especially since I was in Ireland that day…


Posted in Uncategorized on Wednesday, April 29th, 2009 by Annie Finch.