Some Thoughts on a Snowy Day in Vermont
December 4, 2007 - 8:43am
When I moved to Vermont, I knew I was signing up for long winters, which was fine by me, because I knew the cold, hard days and nights would be ameliorated by crackling fires, books, and scotch. Even still, I longed for the balmy, humid Decembers of New Orleans. Weatherwise, relocation to the north was terribly dramatic, to say, the least. Vermont is home to a host of poets; clearly, each state can claim a fair share amount of versifiers, yet, here we breed like new trees. The little state with the many poets inside it -- all with the glow of fires painting their faces, a wondrous, wide-eyed look of the darkness of mankind and the equally warmth of humanity's spirit waiting to find expression in words.
New Orleans is a city of excess; none other is more sensuous or evocative. One cannot but embrace and give back creatively to its thickness of spirit(s), its complicated history, its amalgam of myth, lore, and bone-truths. The senses lay themselves bare to her rapturous assault, and then, are exhausted from all her lush assail. When I hear people speak about the loss of New Orleans, post-Katrina, it is a lamentation or fear that what was once brutishly natural and artless and organic about the city and its people, would become artificial and synthetic. You cannot manufacture soul; it gotta be gutbucket, washboard, bayou-bouncing, kilogombó to the center or nothing at all.
December 4, 2007 - 9:24am
In graduate school, I wrote at night, deep into the night, the world barely there, a thin impression only represented occasionally by a car driving down the street. Back then I smoked cigarettes and would only allow myself to have a couple drags only after I’d met my deadline for that hour. I could only get up twice in an hour. It was a poor reward system, but it worked, especially in my last year, as I knew I had to turn in 45 to 65 pages of a thesis, which terrified me at the time. I still use writing goals as an impetus. I maintain a spreadsheet that is my work schedule on Microsoft Excel. I have target dates and number of poems I’d like to have written.
December 4, 2007 - 9:50am
What I have enjoyed about Louise Glück’s poetry is her near aversion to a predictable morality or easy vision in her poems; she will never utter the inevitable or familiar truism. Instead, she is likely to proffer a contrary understanding of the world, and one attained by a life of trials and joyous moments that serves as evidence of such an understanding. Children are free of the light of knowing; emerging poets should not be free, yet seek out brighter truths, and revel in the sadness and loss. Such difficult truths can only be attained by a savage resistance to innocence. Even more, to express and contain one’s vision with such clarity in a poem is simply sheer grace. Glück has a storehouse of it.
December 4, 2007 - 10:20am
One of the allures of contemporary poetry is the poet’s attempt to liberate language from subject matter and to invest his or herself in the medium of language. Of course, this opens up the many possibilities for poetry to go beyond mainstream utterances and notions of representation. Even if it is hard to digest or package, it is a positive in American poetry that now has a long history. Experimental or linguistically driven poetry can be intellectually sensuous, but all too often the poems, as Reginald Shepherd asserts, the poems break down to be nothing more than mere “evasive sarcasm and tidy, self-congratulatory ironies.”
December 4, 2007 - 10:58am
Growth in poetry depends upon one’s ability to stylize a self inside of poems; I am not necessarily calling for poems of experience or autobiography, but poems which put on display one’s intelligence of thinking around a given topic, and reveal & assert personality. It is a very interesting question to pose to oneself: where are you most represented in your poems? Is it in the language one chooses? Or the movement of ideas? Or in the syntactical structures? Or in one’s images? Or maybe you are a poet whose metaphors announce originality of spirit. Somewhere, I read that seeing is a statement of personality. Poets Robert Hass and Adam Zagajewski strike me as poets who are not necessarily autobiographical, but whose personality can be found in the movement of their thinking, but also the few utterances that are made from the position of the “I,” which are either rapturous or emotive, but always, sensuous.
December 4, 2007 - 11:12am
I love poets whose tendency is to address grand questions such as existence, faith, and politics. We’ve become overly cynical in our belief that language or poetry cannot approach such topics with any amount of success or true earnestness. Poetry, it occurs to me, is that space in which we should tackle the largest of questions, not eschew or shirk away. There, of course, is a whole tradition of such poems which do not necessarily emanate from personal experience or the anxiety of making it new, but are triggered by large philosophic questions; the work of Czeslaw Milosz, John Donne and other Metaphysical Poets, Mark Rudman, Amy Clampitt, and Charles Wright, all come to mind. I applaud such poems for they remind us of poetry’s other spacious domains.
*The last two hour's worth of thoughts are modified statements made to Bennington graduate students through our letter correspondences.
Major Jackson's books of poems are Holding Company (2010, Norton) and Hoops (2006, Norton), both finalists for an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literature-Poetry, and Leaving Saturn (2002, University of Georgia Press), which was awarded the Cave Canem Poetry Prize for a first book of poems and was a finalist for the National Book...