Letter from Poetry Magazine

W. S. Di Piero Responds

by W. S. Di Piero
W.S. Di Piero responds:

I appreciate Anthony Hecht's and Sam Hamill's remarks on my essay. Here are a few vagrant notions.

Women respond differently to war than men do, of course, and the rich respond differently from the poor, and ground troops from generals. In Homer, women's voices, those of mortals at least (female deities in the Iliad tend to be bellicose) linger and thread, however faintly, throughout the killing. In the modern tradition, H. D.'s "Trilogy," a poem I read every few years, is grand not because it's written from a woman's point of view but because it's an accurate, passionate report on annihilation and visionary renewal. Marianne Moore's "What Are Years?," "Light in Speech," and "In Distrust of Merits" are salty, Yankee-type cries for justice and reason. All of Lorine Niedecker, as I read her, argues against life-destroying vanities, personal and nationalistic.

I get exercised over pat phrases like "white male" and "Euro-centric" because, whatever their truth value, they straightjacket reality, create ghettos, and enforce categorical thinking. It's not, in my opinion, the sort of language poets should use. I also distrust, by instinct and cultural genetics, privilege and entitlement, in poetry, politics, and polite society. What I wanted to do in my essay was give a sense of the magnitude of some of the poetry in our tradition that takes war as its subject, and argue that the greatness of such poetry is owed in large part to its complexity, ambiguity, and independence of mind. Poets work to be true to their feeling for the inner life while absorbing the public life. ("There never was a war that was / not inward," as Marianne Moore put it.) I don't think poets should work to be right, or correct, or to serve a cultural program. That would drain us of what small worldly power we have.
Originally Published: October 29, 2008

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This prose originally appeared in the November 2003 issue of Poetry magazine

November 2003


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 W. S. Di Piero


W.S. Di Piero was born in 1945 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and earned degrees from St. Joseph’s College and San Francisco State College. A poet, essayist, art critic, and translator, Di Piero has taught at institutions such as Northwestern University, Louisiana State University, and Stanford, where he is professor emeritus of English and on faculty in the prestigious Stegner Poetry Workshop. Elected to the American Academy of . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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