I want to  share a half dozen of my favorite quotes about the process and charges of poetry. I’d love to hear what you think of these (some of them are, purposefully, provocative). I’d also like for you to share some of your own favorites.

1. “I believe fervently that the poet’s first obligation is to his own voice—to find it and use it. And one’s ‘voice’ does not only speak in the often slipshod imprecise vocabulary with which one buys the groceries but with all of the resources of one’s life whatever they may be, no matter whether they are ‘American’ or of another cultures, so long as they are truly one’s own and not faked.”
Denise Levertov

2. Peace goes into the making of a poet as flour goes into the making of bread.
Pablo Neruda

3. “The most important thing is to find a way to embody on the page meaning as it comes to you….You have to find a way to enact on the page the medium through which you apprehend significance.”

Frank Bidart

4. “I am who I am, doing what I came to do, acting upon you like a drug or a chisel to remind you of your me-ness, as I discover you in myself.”
--Audre Lorde

5. “And above all, my body as well as my soul, beware of assuming the sterile attitude of a spectator, for life is not a spectacle, a sea of miseries is not a proscenium, a man screaming is not a dancing bear…”
--Aimé Césaire, from Notebook of a Return to the Native Land

6. “The essence of poetry is the unique view—the unguessed relationship, suddenly manifest. Poetry’s eye is always aslant, oblique.”
Josephine Jacobsen, “One Poet’s Poetry”

Originally Published: May 28th, 2009

Poet and editor Camille T. Dungy was born in Denver but moved often as her father, an academic physician, taught at many different medical schools across the country. She earned a BA from Stanford University and an MFA from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.   Dungy’s full-length poetry publications include Trophic...

  1. May 28, 2009
     Desmond Swords

    "Poetry is the madness of saints, distilled through the eyes of sinners."\r

    John Donne\r

    "Ask, not what poetry can do for us, but what we can do for Poetry."\r

    Buddy Wakefield\r

    "The hierophants and mystics of the inner order, 33'rd degree adepts, all desublimated out the galactic gas into vegetable matter."\r

    Johnny Rotten \r

    "Loving one's emotional centre where the eye behind the mind behind the hand behind the man making shapes in letters - is the business of a bore who can actually perform in that role."\r

    JOhn Ashberry\r

    "Droning on about ourselves and how deeply aware and urgent and pressing and jolly and marvelous and civilized we are, is the job of people with massive egos who want to share their innermost selves with anyone stupid enough to give them the time of day."\r

    Dave Blogger\r

    "So serene the soul-lit charm\r
    Being a gateway to the stars\r
    Beyond we look to, feel, know\r
    And marvel as a light bestows\r
    Upon us all the gifts of God\r
    A Cosmic Creator, evenly odd."\r

    Anon.\r

    "Yeah, when i first thought about it...i mean really sunk deep into the undercurrent that be the verse (wh was that bald English dude with the scatological short-hand fascinated with saying *bum-hole* - barkin Larkin was it?) - it was like, dead fruity and that, really brill and then, a bit moody as the buzz come up and we all got like, in the zone man, after Al smoked all the gear and there was some kind of spontaneous injection of hard drugs doing the rounds. Jack was in the usual state and Greg was howling at some square teaser trying to trip of his thing, y'know man, yeah, yeah, d'yer like, really..i mean, REALLY !!! know?" \r

    Total Lies.

  2. May 28, 2009
     Miriam Levine

    I like to apply William Blake's "Proverbs of Hell" to the writing to poetry. Here are two examples:\r

    Drive your cart and your plow over the bones of the dead.\r

    The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.

  3. May 28, 2009
     thomas brady

    Camille,\r

    Wonderful post.\r

    To be honest, the only one I like is the Cesaire: don't be a 'sterile' salesman of spectacle...remember that poetry is not merely entertainment. OK, I guess I agree, but even so it does sound a little preachy...\r

    1. Levertov's "one's own voice..." A pity this 'own voice' idea is thrown around so much, because it doesn't mean anything--poets should never be as vague as self-help salesmen. \r

    2. Neruda--peace, flour, bread, what?? N. always was good at over-reaching metaphors. The practice has ruined many a good poet...\r

    3. Bidart--"you have to enact on the page the medium through which you apprehend significance" OK...you mean you have to... write?\r

    4. Lorde--"as I discover you in myself" Why must poets sound like pop psychologists?\r

    5. Cesaire--see above.\r

    6. Jacobsen--"essence of poetry is the unique view..." Why not just say 'unique?' 'essence of...' and 'view' feel like padding...It might be more aphoristic to say, simply, 'poetry is a view' and defend that position (though I doubt you could) but 'essence of poetry is the unique view' just sounds flabby...\r


    Thomas

  4. May 28, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    Yes, again wonderful, Camille.\r
    Thanks.\r

    And Desmond Swords, of course, takes it where it's gone today:\r

    “Loving one’s emotional centre where the eye behind the mind behind the hand behind the man making shapes in letters - is the business of a bore who can actually perform in that role.”\r

    JOhn Ashberry (love the big OH!)\r

    The irony of our times is that the ability to bore is seen as vatic. The editors who purvey the stuff talk about poetry as a sacred art, the experts about why it's not about what it means but much more about what it does for the reader who's smart enough and mentored enough to see, and the workshop leaders about your true self. Because most of us are bores, yet the editors need us to buy the books and we do buy the books because the mastery of the books makes us experts in the workshops that provide the fodder for the editors in need of more books to bolster the reputations of us all.\r

    It's not that John Ashberry isn't a great poet, which he is, or that the process doesn't produce some good poetry, which it does. It's just that the process produces such a humungous pile of unreadable work that still has to be published or the quantum goes into recession. It also means that the poem of reflection, and I mean just one poem of reflection, the kind that takes not only far more than a semester to write but is profound because it's so simple and transparent–that sort of poem has no cachet anymore in our system. There's no time for it because it can't be talked about long enough or written by just anyone in the class. Indeed, it's often the kind of poetry we only get to read in America if it's been translated from the Polish or Czech.\r

    There are exceptions. This one I just came across at breakfast–I suspect you all read it a month ago at least, it takes that long for the NYRB to get to me here in Chiang Mai. I choose it to demonstrate what we're not seeing much of in the glut that's American poetry, although it makes use of the American idiom, the mouth hanging a bit open and almost unzipped down there like Williams.\r


    WHY SOME PEOPLE DO NOT READ POETRY\r

    Because they already know that it means\r
    stopping and without stopping they know that\r
    beyond stopping it will mean listening\r
    listening without hearing and maybe\r
    then hearing without hearing and what would\r
    they hear then what good would it be to them\r
    like some small animal crossing the road\r
    suddenly there but not seeming to move\r
    at night and they are late and may be on\r
    the wrong road over the mountain with all\r
    the others asleep and not hitting it\r
    that time as though forgetting it again.\r

    W.S.Merwin

  5. May 28, 2009
     Colin Ward

    Deep Thought by Donner:\r

    You may call me a poet when they write it on my headstone.\r

    =====================================================================\r

    In movieland, a "Language and Content" label attempts to lure \r
    teens by assuring them that the language will be at least 5% as salty \r
    as their own and that the action will be on par with what they did \r
    last Saturday night.\r

    In poetry, a "Language and Content" label could be used to warn \r
    pseudointellectuals that the language may be coherent and the content \r
    of interest to someone other than the poet's psychiatrist.\r

    =====================================================================\r

    "What is the difference between prose and poetry?" you ask?\r

    a) Pope Leo just saved your trembling Roman ass from the Huns. If, \r
    instead of demanding a transcript of their meeting, your first \r
    instinct is to dance naked up and down the Via Appia then you have \r
    grasped the nature of prose.\r

    b) You are Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, about to \r
    administer a Presidential Oath of Office that all first year law \r
    students know by heart. Everyone on the planet is watching. If \r
    you agree that this might be a good time to get the words exactly \r
    right then you have managed to grok the basis of poetry.\r

    =====================================================================\r

    Slam has a presence.\r
    Poetry has a future.\r

    That which trips off the tongue often lands in the memory.\r

    Defining poetry by content is like trying to grab a drowning \r
    donkey by its bubbles.\r

    Poetry is not about the writer or the reader. It is about \r
    everything in between.\r

    Try to be understood too quickly.\r

    Would you buy a car from someone whose sales pitch amounts \r
    to an argument that the thing in front of you is, in fact, a car?\r

    =====================================================================\r

    "Art is not a declaration; it's a verdict."\r

    - Leonard Cohen \r

    =====================================================================\r

    "Bad literature is a form of treason."\r

    - Joseph Brodsky\r

    =====================================================================\r

    "Write what you know. That should leave you with a lot of free time."\r

    - Howard Nemerov \r

    =====================================================================\r

    "You use words like a magpie uses wedding rings."\r

    "Triteness is a minor flaw, easily remedied (should nothing else \r
    occur to you) by adding a mysterious reference to a goat in the \r
    last line."\r

    - Gerard Ian Lewis\r

    =====================================================================

  6. May 29, 2009
     john

    "with a bit of madness in me which is poetry" \r
    -- Basho, tr. Nobuyuki Yuasa\r

    "Poetry is a packsack of invisible keepsakes." \r
    -- Sandburg\r

    "Poetry is a series of explanations of life, fading off into horizons too swift for explanations." \r
    -- Sandburg again\r

    "words which are flowers which are fruits which are deeds" \r
    -- Paz\r

    A poem remembered at the right moment,\r
    however simple,\r
    glows with life.\r
    -- anonymous poem from the oral tradition of South India, tr. Velcheru Naryana Rao and David Shulman\r

    I dwell in Possibility --\r
    A fairer House than Prose --\r
    More numerous of Windows --\r
    Superior -- for Doors --\r
    -- Dickinson\r

    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. \r
    -- Christian Gospel\r

    The word is total\r
    It cuts, excoriates\r
    It forms, it modulates\r
    It perturbs, maddens\r
    Cures or directly kills\r
    It amplifies or reduces\r
    According to intention\r
    It excites or calms souls.\r
    -- a bard of the Bamana Komo society, from "Leaf and Bone: African Praise-Poems," Judith Gleason, ed.\r

    Not I, not I, but the wind that blows through me!\r
    -- Lawrence\r

    Trust to good verses then;\r
    They only will aspire,\r
    When pyramids, as men,\r
    Are lost i' th' funeral fire.\r

    And when all bodies meet\r
    In Lethe to be drowned;\r
    Then only numbers sweet\r
    With endless life are crowned.\r
    -- Herrick\r


    And one more, for Harriet ("Poetry" refers to the magazine):\r

    "Poetry" . . . a kind of hearth.\r
    -- Stevens\r


    Thanks, Camille.

  7. May 29, 2009
     thomas brady

    I think Poe was right. Poetry is Taste. Nothing more, nothing less. \r

    Most people simply do not have a taste for poetry. Certain kinds of poetry appeal to some and not to others, for reasons of pure taste. Some prefer emotional, metrical, singing types of poetry (Millay, Poe), others prefer poetry that meanders along prosaically (Williams,etc,etc). \r

    Poetry has nothing to do with these vatic, profound, deep, pompous things that people traditionally assign to it. That's not poetry, that's something else...sly guru meaning/significance etc which poetry touches on, sort of by default; but guru-wisdom has nothing to with poetry, per se, any more than painting styles of the Renaissance painters have to do with religion. Would religion lay claim to Leonardo's oils? If not, then why should poetry? Why should poetry lay claim to anything, except as it specifically appeals to Taste? All the rest is phoney-baloney, an illusion of profundity we poets flatter ourselves with. \r

    What is this matter of Taste? this creation of schools of Thought? which are really, in truth, schools of Taste? a preferance for Poe, or Williams, for instance, or, as is true for many people, a preferance for no poetry at all? instead: scornful jokes, or Hallmark sentiments, or teary movies and novels? what is it, really, but Plato's Republic keeping poetry at bay, not through force or edict, but simply through choices based on mere preferential whim? \r

    A fan of William Carlos Williams will scorn the teary novel, and perhaps for the same reason, Poe. The flint-hard, anti-sentimental taste for Williams, and his unsentimental depictions of weeds, keeps that emotional, weepy poetry from destroying the Republic from within; Williams is a Taste Soldier working for Plato.\r

    But the unconscious wisdom of the system is such that other Soldiers of Taste exist to counter the Williams strain, lest it become too potent: the Body of the Republic is suspicious of all Poetry invaders--it tolerates various tastes in poetry so long as they keep an eye on each other and do not unite in one grand poetry infection. To be ga-ga over Williams is almost as bad as being ga-ga over Poe; the Republic needs real work to be done; it mistrusts all ga-ga activity. The Republic prefers that its citizens stick to the straight and narrow and not go ga-ga over anything. When there's an incentive to work (and there usually is) then everything is fine. But the loafers and the idlers with their tendency to stir up ga-ga will seize on anything: the idol of the theater, the idol of the dance, the idol of the poppy, the idol of the jack boot, the idol of poetry. In a dictatorship, the police perform this function--one way, or another. In a true republic, Taste performs this function. Argument fades away, truth is beauty, beauty, truth...without force, the Republic is democratically, innately ordered...

  8. May 29, 2009
     Don Share

    Here's one: \r

    "It is some part of poetry that we must search for it."

  9. May 29, 2009
     Mary Meriam

    “Poetry, in the end, is just as simple and naked and bereft and alone as it's always been. It's just words, set to a kind of music, which people remember and recite to themselves & each other.”\r
    Henry Gould

  10. May 29, 2009
     Mary Meriam

    “But I do feel completely competent to direct a project of silence. I am kind of dedicated to the doable. It’s a huge part of what I mean when I say poetry.”\r
    Eileen Myles

  11. May 29, 2009
     Gary B. Fitzgerald

    "Poetry should please by a fine excess and not by singularity. It should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost as a remembrance." \r
    John Keats

  12. May 29, 2009
     thomas brady

    Christopher,\r

    Here you explain the malady of the poetry workshop:\r

    "It also means that the poem of reflection, and I mean just one poem of reflection, the kind that takes not only far more than a semester to write but is profound because it’s so simple and transparent–that sort of poem has no cachet anymore in our system. There’s no time for it because it can’t be talked about long enough or written by just anyone in the class." \r

    I don't think it's the writing in the workshop setting that's the problem. A good poem can be written by anyone, anywhere. The 'cookie cutter' workshop poem is a myth. Peer pressure, or schools of poetry that make one write a certain way, of course, exist, but they'll exist with or without the workshop. Any workshop student in his dorm can write a profound, original poem. The workshop has nothing to do with it. The student is in the workshop to 'make friends and connections.'\r

    Secondly, when you speak of the poem that 'takes...far more than a semester to write...' I don't think poems need to be slaved over; inspiration is famously quick. 'Writing to order' or 'writing to a deadline' has produced plenty of masterpieces. Inspiration is a lighting bolt--the cliche is true. Yeats died in Jan. 1939, Auden published 'In Memory of W.B. Yeats' in Feb. 1939.\r

    No, the problem with the workshop is not in the writing, but in the criticism. The issue is exemplified in the founding text of the workshop: "Criticism, Inc" by John Crowe Ransom, who wrote that poetry criticism needed to become a university-based science, and that's what happened. \r

    Every crucial university post was filled by Ransom's Fugitive/New Critical friends and associates: Paul Engle, a Rhodes Scholar like Ransom, who was picked for the Yale Younger by a Fugitive poet, aided by Wilbur Schramm, actual founder of the Iowa Writer's Workshop who ended up at the propaganda division at the Office of War Information, (Engle received one of the first Master's degrees for a piece of creative writing) Yvor Winters at Stanford, Tate at Princeton, Warren & Brooks as college poetry textbook authors...\r

    What happened here, essentially, was the transformation of the university as a place where the history of poetry was studied to a place where contemporary poet-professor-critics studied themselves--a heresy rife with self-interest, and which soon became commonplace. It was a top-down revolution and initially provided opportunity for students to learn to write poetry, but the top-down, 'fox-in-the-chicken-coop' nature of the whole process was bound to lead to trouble. It's not the workshop students who are to blame; the problem is that the ones who succeed are the ones who flatter their professors and insinuate themselves into the university circuit--the survival mechanism which replaces actual poetry sales. \r

    Which brings me to your quote here, "the process produces such a humungous pile of unreadable work that still has to be published," which, of course, is spot on correct.\r

    But the problem isn't in the writing, it's in the blurbing and the lack of true criticism, the lack of 'weeding out'--and by 'true criticism,' I don't mean absolute truth, but honest wit which doesn't flatter.\r

    Criticism cannot compete against the secret handshake between professor and student, the secret handshake of self-interest whose whole point is to be 'critic-proof,' safe from the critics, safe from the public, praised in the press by well-placed friends who have 'university authority.'\r

    As for your Merwin poem: Merwin has published so many books, has seen so much, has lived so long, that I tremble at the task of making a personal comment on one of his poems. Merwin studied with New Critic R.P. Blackmur at Princeton (with Galway Kinnell) in the writing department Allen Tate founded and he also knew Robert Graves, who was in Ransom's Fugitive circle briefly along with Laura Riding, and Merwin also later moved in Robert Lowell's circle: Lowell studied with Ransom; so, you see, the poetry world is extremely small and well-connected and very much university-based. That tired cliche is true: it's who you know...\r

    Now to the poem:\r

    Why Some People Do Not Read Poetry\r

    Because they already know that it means\r
    stopping and without stopping they know that\r
    beyond stopping it will mean listening\r
    listening without hearing and maybe\r
    then hearing without hearing and what would\r
    they hear then what good would it be to them\r
    like some small animal crossing the road\r
    suddenly there but not seeming to move\r
    at night and they are late and may be on\r
    the wrong road over the mountain with all\r
    the others asleep and not hitting it\r
    that time as though forgetting it again.\r

    I don't like it. The lack of punctuation is an insult to the reader. The condescending attitude towards these 'some people who don't read poetry' kills the poem immediately; am I reading this correctly? The wise poet (Merwin) knows how to listen and hear and observe the 'small animal crossing the road' while these 'some people' are only surprised by it, and because they are in such a damn hurry, run the poor thing over? \r

    Oh, the humanity!\r


    Thomas

  13. May 29, 2009
     Gary B. Fitzgerald

    "As for your Merwin poem:...The lack of punctuation is an insult to the reader."\r
    - Thomas Brady\r

    That's an interesting observation, Thomas. I have now published five books of poetry. I think back on the hours and hours I spent focused on my punctuation: colon or comma? Semicolon or ellipsis? Yet Merwin just won the Pulitzer for his collection with no punctuation at all. It is a bit insulting, isn't it?\r

    "I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again."\r
    - Oscar Wilde

  14. May 29, 2009
     Terreson

    This is always a fun game to play, Camille Dungy. Especially so, since, it tends to play on and reflect points in our own preoccupations while we ply the craft. I am guessing, for example, that finding a voice is important to you. That Thomas Brady agrees with Poe, that poetry is a matter only of (personal?) taste, is equally as much a reflection on the writer. That Mary Meriam finds something truthful in the Gould quote about the loneliness of poetry also tells me something about Mary Meriam. And so forth.\r

    So I'll play the tell-tale heart game. Following your lead I'll limit myself to 6 quotes.\r

    "The genius of poetry is dead, but the demon of suspicion has come into the world. I am firmly convinced that the only antidote for this, the only thing that might make the reader forget the eternal I of the author, is complete sincerity." Stendhal.\r

    "Have no twisty thoughts." Confucius on what the classic anthology of ancient Chinese poetry taught him.\r

    "The supreme question of a work of art is: from how deep a life does it spring?" James Joyce.\r

    "In order to dominate collective passions they must, in fact, be lived through and experienced, at least relatively. At the same time he experiences them, the artist is devoured by them. The result is that our period is rather the period of journalism than that of the work of art. The exercise of these passions, finally, entails far greater chances of death than in a period of love and ambition, in that the only way of living collective passions is to be willing to die for them and by their hand." Albert Camus.\r

    "To cultivate one's thought - to learn to shape and handle it - is to cultivate one's style. Looked at from any other point of view, style merely makes for obscurity and acts as a drag." Jean Cocteau.\r

    "We are worried when we cannot make comparisons. Our whole system of pleasures is based on comparisons. If we are satisfied with our own work, it is probable that it bears some resemblance to other works with which we are preoccupied. But if we produce something really new, as this novelty is not based on any definite recollection, it leaves us as it were, with one leg in the air, alone in the world. We are as much disconcerted and disappointed by it as the reader will be." Cocteau again.\r

    For lagniappe there is something Lorca said: "The true fight is with the duende."\r

    Terreson

  15. May 29, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    I was a bit shocked at myself when I reread my last post later in the day, and wished that I hadn't.\r

    For example choosing that poem to stand for what I meant. Why did I? And I realized that it was because I was so surprised to find a poem in the NYRB that I actually liked, that would actually engage me, move me, deepen my day. I love the NYRB, and living in such isolation it brings the intellectual companionship one is deprived of in paradise. But the poetry hardly ever.\r

    So the choice was because the poem said something important to me in words and images I wanted to remember, and even as I read it the very first time I knew I would surely come back. That's my test, that a poem wants to stay with me.\r

    The choice is because I found that experience in a most unlikely place--a huge subject in itself. (Am I the odd man out? Do most NYRB readers enjoy the poetry that I don't? Do others read it with pleasure?)\r

    I read all the Poems-of-the-day from the AoAP as they popped up on my screen (the Academy banned me but still keep sending me poetry, possibly hoping it will reform me), and there were only 5 in two whole months that did this–and two of those were translations, and one was by Charles Wright. The vast majority hardly held me, and some made me squirm.\r

    But that's me, of course it is--just as it's me that W.S.Merwin is addressing when he writes a poem entitled WHY SOME PEOPLE DO NOT READ POETRY. Because your absolutely wrong about the title, friend Thomas–there's no "condescending attitude" here at all. Merwin is not looking down on "some people.," but writing the poem for everybody in the world who can't take it all in, including me most of the time–because of course if we did take it all in we'd be enlightened. Just as we blink our eyes incessantly, shutting out the sheer quantity of sight that would otherwise blind us, we can't possibly stop for every small animal that crosses the road, even lost on the mountain, even with everybody asleep around us like Jesus in the garden. Even in that night vigil we're unlikely to come to terms with it, that time or ever. We just blink and forget it again.\r

    So that's my real bitch about the American poetry scene, I guess, just too much of it. Even dear Harriet overwhelms me–and I'm not visiting other sites either whereas I can tell that many of you are and probably have sites of your own as well, and are also teaching, reading, publishing, critiquing, mentoring and possibly even writing too. How do you do it?\r

    So that's why some people like me do not read poetry.\r

    Christopher

  16. May 29, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    Why Some People Do Not Read Poetry\r

    Because they already know that it means\r
    stopping and without stopping they know that\r
    beyond stopping it will mean listening\r
    listening without hearing and maybe\r
    then hearing without hearing and what would\r
    they hear then what good would it be to them\r
    like some small animal crossing the road\r
    suddenly there but not seeming to move\r
    at night and they are late and may be on\r
    the wrong road over the mountain with all\r
    the others asleep and not hitting it\r
    that time as though forgetting it again.\r


    I'm not very well informed either, and don't pretend to be a literary historian. So I can only guess the history of a poem like this, and turn rather to my own experience in deciding whether to use punctuation or not (I usually do, and as carefully as Gary.)\r

    What not using punctuation does for me is make me whisper a poem. When the punctuation is removed a poem becomes like a prayer or a mantra that exists under my breath, so to speak–which removes its meaning from my conscious intention to its own secret, whistful, other-worldly trajectory. But that's also just an illusion, of course, because such a poem has to be even more strictly crafted than if it had been punctuated–which is an irony because such a poem gives the impression it's just been dashed off, and in the hands of a less skillful poet it almost certainly would have been! In Merwin's punctuationless poem every word counts–and the line breaks are loaded with responsibility because that's all he's got, beside the end. Such poems are usually short too, like this one, almost as if you have to hold your own breath to read it and let it work its own magic on you in a trance.\r

    But the poem does need a full stop at the end so you know when the trance is done. \r

    I think this little poem is a wonderful example of what leaving out punctuation can achieve. Indeed, had it been punctuated it could not have performed the very considerable feats it does, particularly in the last couple of lines. \r

    Christopher

  17. May 29, 2009
     Gary B. Fitzgerald

    .\r

    Poetry\r

    .\r

    I never read poetry; can’t stand the stuff\r
    and who could blame me?\r
    The bad ones make me gnash my teeth\r
    and the good ones only shame me.\r


    .\r
    Copyright 2008 - HARDWOOD-77 Poems, Gary B. Fitzgerald

  18. May 29, 2009
     Camille Dungy

    Terreson,\r

    You've made a good point that the quotes we choose likely reflect our own attitudes about the pursuit of poetry. I must admit that I narrowed my list down to 6 with some difficulty, and a different list might reveal an entirely different Camille Dungy, but this list I did choose certainly reveals some things I believe about what poetry can and should do.\r

    I will say that one of the things that strikes me most about the Levertov quote, which has come under scrutiny various times in this thread, is not so much her interest in "the voice" but her openness to the idea that sources for poetry can come from beyond a "homegrown" American context. As you likely know from my previous posts, this is an idea I support.\r

    I've had fun reading this stream and seeing what people have to say about the idea of having something to say about poetry. Keep the comments coming!\r

    --Camille

  19. May 29, 2009
     thomas brady

    Elegant reply, Christopher. Well done.\r

    I think you read that poem better than Merwin wrote it!

  20. May 30, 2009
     thomas brady

    Gary,\r

    I've never been a big fan of the Line Break School. \r

    Richard Blackmur, the New Critic, who befriended and helped the career of John Berryman, and also helped to turn Berryman into a tragic drunk, at Princeton, also taught Merwin at Princeton. \r

    Berryman, a wretched man whose friends--Delmore Schwartz, Randall Jarrell and Robert Lowell--were also wretched, were part of that sorry band who venerated the Modernists to a high degree, but had even less learning themselves (Schwartz, who barely knew French, was ridiculed when he published his translation of Rimbaud, etc) and the men they venerated were John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, Blackmur, and Mark Van Doren--the professor at Columbia, Pulitzer Prize in Poetry (1940) and father of the quiz show fraud Charles Van Doren for the show '21,' who was instrumental in helping the careers of wayward youths, Berryman and Ginsberg. Standing behind the career of Allen Tate, who stood behind the career of Robert Lowell, was Ford Maddox Ford (Tate's wife was Ford's secretary and Ford introduced Lowell to his first wife and introduced Lowell to John Crowe Ransom) who worked in Britain's Bureau for War Propaganda during World War One. \r

    Anyway, Blackmur, Merwin's teacher, wrote this piece of tripe, which sort of sums up for me the stupidity and arrogance of the Line Break School:\r

    The art of poetry\r
    is amply distinguished from the manufacture of verse\r
    by the animating presence in the poetry\r
    of a fresh idiom: language\r

    so twisted & posed in a form\r
    that it not only expresses the matter in hand\r
    but adds to the stock of available reality.\r

    "Language!" \r

    "Reality!" \r

    Gosh!\r

    Thomas

  21. May 30, 2009
     Margo Berdeshevsky

    English has double meanings\r
    French subscribes that language is rational\r
    They find Shakespeare very chaotic.\r
    --WS Merwin\r

    I'd say Merwin is precise in what he's doing, double meanings, subtle meanings, line breaks,whispers, no punctuation, and all. To have heard him read his poems--is to hear the son of a preacher man, offering what he knows--honoring language, and giving it. Music, double meanings, and all. And often, utilizing a brittle less is more. He's also written (I don't have the quote at hand) -- that his aim is to make the reader feel that the poem was written effortlessly. I don't think the particular poem from the NYRB is the (very) finest example--a more personal favorite is "The Vixen," but so what?Your points written from your paradise, Christopher, are well taken. \r

    And I'd add to the subject here, my favorite quote of late, (a sharpened a knife) : "Beauty is the purgation of superfluities"– Michelangelo Buonarroti \r

    Margo

  22. May 30, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    Camille,\r
    Let me first include your good quote from Denise Levertov:\r

    “I believe fervently that the poet’s first obligation is to his own voice–to find it and use it. And one’s 'voice’ does not only speak in the often slipshod imprecise vocabulary with which one buys the groceries but with all of the resources of one’s life whatever they may be, no matter whether they are 'American’ or of another cultures, so long as they are truly one’s own and not faked.”\r
    –Denise Levertov\r

    In my view it wasn't so much that Denise Levertov felt poetry should be multi-cultural, but that all significant and distinct "voices" inevitably are. For we are all a bundle of foreign impressions going right back to our childhood and on through the door to the womb–even if we've never been beyond our state border! Even the least travelled stay-at-home has integrated so much–the culture of a mother, the culture of a father, the culture of a first kindergarden teacher, of a priest, a plumber and a dog. \r

    What I think Denise Levertov is saying here is that although there is multiplicity in all of us, some domestic, some exotic, some focussed, some not, those influences can only contribute to forming a real voice "so long as they are truly one's own and not faked." That's what she's emphasizing, honesty, integrity, our sense of personal worth–and how peculiar that can be at times too. I know there are plenty of prime influences in my own long life that I cannot integrate into my real voice, like my academic credentials, for a start, major CV items that add not one iota of height to my stature or breadth to me as a poet. And if I wrote in the dialect of my parents, for example, my mother from Boston and Stockbridge, my father from Maine, I would be lying–but if I write out of what they actually gave me, which is complicated to say the least, I fly. Like Paul Laurence Dunbar reluctantly writing dialect poetry when what he meant was the sensitive, refined poetry he wrote in becoming himself.\r

    (I find that photograph you posted of him mesmerizing!)\r

    Yes, that sort of irony in Paul Laurence Dunbar is painful and deep, and has to be factored in when considering any poetry with racial undertones–what is more racial credentials. James Baldwin knew that so well, and so did Langston Hughes–and they both suffered such agonies for it. But what voices!\r

    Yes, and Eneimem can rap too, but Gregory Corso couldn't (I'm basing that on the lack of voice I heard at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 1965–later I think he did better).\r

    What bothers me is that I hear so many voices today I'm asked to believe sound just like you know who–or if not the blurb must be lying!\r

    Christopher

  23. May 30, 2009
     Margo Berdeshevsky

    & speaking of whispers: \r

    Hush! Hush! Whisper who dares!\r
    Christopher Robin is saying his prayers.\r
    A. A. Milne\r
    Vespers

  24. May 30, 2009
     Terreson

    Camille Dungy, my comment was not intended reductively. If anything, in fact, an artist's preoccupations can be what give her the courage to chase down leads she might not otherwise pursue, perhaps for fear of losing group approbation. And without the pursuit how will the discoveries come about? I suppose there could be problems if the artist is no longer in possession of her preoccupations but becomes possessed by them.\r

    As for this question of "voice," I confess it has never made a connection for me. It is not something I can "see." Not, at least, in the way I can see what Cocteau means when he strips style down to the shaping and handling, the cultivation, of one's thoughts.\r

    Terreson

  25. May 30, 2009
     thomas brady

    The insidious thing about "voice" is that it has come to signify "lacking art."\r

    Art, in modern poetry, has been replaced by "voice," which is nothing more than a secret handshake in which the reader appreciates failure. \r

    I say 'failure,' because the Voice School, like any other school, still seeks perfection; but the Voice School reasons thusly: 'the reason this quaint, old-fashioned poem does not please me is because it is artificial; the poem was obsessed with form instead of speaking with the poet's unfaked voice.\r

    But the reasoning of the Voice School is highly insidious, and kills art, for the old poem does NOT fail because it is artificial and lacks a sincere voice; it fails for the same reason all poetry fails: because of formal weakness.\r

    "Voice" is a screen for a weakness we cannot put our finger on--we say a poem fails because it does not have a sincere "voice," without even knowing what we mean by "voice." \r

    Since the desire to fake poetic excellence is ubiquitious, shouldn't we be on guard against inexact terminology which attempts to validate mediocre poetry? \r

    Shakespeare, Poe, Auden, Eliot--just taking four examples--each produced a myriad of "voices;" some of these voices, according to the reductive reasoning of the Voice School MUST be artificial, insincere, faked. But excellence in art is most often artificial, insincere, faked, and the four authors just cited proves this point with their very existence.\r

    If I write a poem which sounds like 'myself talking,' how is this a more sincere 'voice' on my part, since poetry is NOT 'myself talking,' and further, 'myself' and 'talking' will ALWAYS be judged by more than just 'is that REALLY ME talking?'\r

    The Voice School, as deeply sincere as its practioners sometimes are, traffics in small-minded fraud.

  26. May 30, 2009
     Christopher Woodman

    Thank God, for you, Thomas Brady–our Court Jester, Jeremiah, Devil's Advocate, Agent Provocateur, Iconoclast, Revisionist, and Republic Policeman all rolled up into one. I never read you without some utter disbelief that such things could be said, yet I never read you without knowing that as a result of your sleights and your trickery I can think a bit truer than I did before, and what a treasure is that!\r

    Loki, Hannuman, Wizard of Oz!\r

    Because of course the devil is always in the wording, and the moment we get too intimate with any word, Evil, let's say, Democracy or Freedom, we use it to bomb the living daylights out of people who've never had a chance. How pathetic!\r

    Like your Poetry is Taste post just above–do you even remember, dear Pinnochio/Umberto Eco? "Poetry is Taste," you wrote, "nothing more, nothing less... Poetry has nothing to do with these vatic, profound, deep, pompous things that people traditionally assign to it. That’s not poetry, that’s something else…sly guru meaning/significance etc which poetry touches on, sort of by default."\r

    Wow, blown out are the cobwebs of Meaning once and for all, the true bugbear of our times! Because just look what being too intimate with "me meaning" has done to Anerican poetry, the demolition of not just irony and subtlety but of silence, as if talking the talk were always enough. What-we-talk-about-when-we-talk-about-love indeed!\r

    So VOICE--how smart you are, dear Tom, in the points you make, but what ludicrous reductios you pull into the act. "The Voice School, as deeply sincere as its practioners sometimes are, traffics in small-minded fraud."\r

    But hey wait, doesn't it?\r

    Christopher

  27. May 31, 2009
     manoel

    “...becuase whatever school they went to told them… \r

    baby boomers sons and daughters from america middle class can go [expletive] themselves...”\r

    -poet i was talking with yesterday\r


    but camille,\r
    oh lord and that Neruda quote was... ugh... the levertov quote and the bidart quote too... \r

    ad thomas brady,\r
    oh man... are you (and every e-poet alive) still criticizing the concept of "voice?" aww... is that still a debate nowadays? \r

    take care,