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Lyric Poetry is the Imprint of the Poet’s Mind
David Biespiel, in this week’s Poetry Wire, is taking on lyric poetry. He offers up ten observations, and then asks for yours, dear reader, in the comments section. ‘
I know, just by titling this piece — “What Is Lyric Poetry?” — you’re thinking, no, you’re not. You’re not. You’re not going to do this.
Yup. Doing it. Sort of. What follows is less “What Is Lyric Poetry?” and more what I like about poetry. And, what I don’t like. But I’m not going to say which is which.
Lyric poetry is intrinsically autobiographical because it’s the imprint of the poet’s mind. It’s what the self evaluates.
Because it’s autobiographical, lyric poetry is tethered to its cultural predicament. And to its historical conditions. It’s a masked posture. This is why, in addition to the physical geographic border of a specific language (meaning, French or English or Russian or Dutch or Arabic, and so on), we have national poetries. With particular, peculiar, and predominant national literary histories. In other words, we have selves of poetries. We have veils of poets.
Form is essential to lyric poetry. And, form is dynamic not traditional. I say this as known formalist. Or, more accurately, as an informalist. C. D. Wright is more of a formalist than Jack Gilbert. She’s at least as formal as Anthony Hecht. Side B? Form confines a poem to its era. All the same, it’s the contemplation inside a poem that allows it the potential to be timeless and to feel contemporary even into the future. Wisdom. Insight. Metaphor. Trust. This is one reason Henry Timrod now seems terribly wretched and Walt Whitman remains terribly brilliant.
Very little new happens in lyric poetry. Or, new ideas come, you know, but only so often. We should confess this to ourselves every time we try to write. Oh, there’s adaptation, there’s distortion, there’s refinement. It’s easy enough to imagine, say, some movement called the New Beats or the New Agrarians. The Neo Dub-Step Imagists. But “neo” is more about resurgence and reinvention. Revival. Which is not to diss the fabulous paint job.
Contemporary American lyric poetry could be a lot more sensual. More foreplay. More cooking. More blood. The novelists are killing us on this score. We’re putting all our sensuality into form. Then mass producing it. I mean, c’mon. Thought outlasts form. Somebody, please, sauté some garlic with butter. Move a lock of hair behind her ear. Stab someone.
Lyric poetry must nourish. Must delight. Must spiritualize. Must mythologize. Otherwise it’s science without God.
Full article here.