Christina Pugh criticizes the middlebrow demand for “lived experience” in poetry (“No Experience Necessary,” June 2005), which so often leads to trivial recounting of familiar anecdotes and banal “life-lessons.” However (taking a cue from some of the New York School poets), she in turn trivializes the concept, locating it in “a shared sense of humanity,” or “the mind-numbing burden of domesticity,” or life outside the university, or simply “manual labor.” As examples of so-called experience, these are equally banal and stereotypical.
One of the special virtues of poetry is its capacity to match vivid language with the particulars of sense experience. This power to represent actuality, as a fusion of intelligibility and sensuous immediacyfelt, seen, heard, and understood, all at onceis what poetry (unlike more abstract forms of discourse) does best. In T.S. Eliot’s terms, poetry’s synthetic “wit” counters “the dissociation of sensibility.” And it would be a mistake for poets simply to reject the possibilities of poetic realismthe fine rendering and interpretation of actual experienceon the basis of such a limited concept of the term.
Providence, Rhode Island