Culture

2014 Best American Poetry

 

How to Read a Poem?

(You may need help.)

 The current state of Poetry is that there are a spate of aspirants and a dearth of audience.  There is also a spate of hierarchy and a dearth of quality.  You needn’t read much further to deduce this latter than the current “Best American Poetry 2014”.  I’m two thirds the way through my reading of it, and I’ve come across four poems I’d read again, none especially timeless, and yet, nearly to a person their bios detail honors, awards, recipientships, publications, fellowships, and prestigious academic positions up the yin yang.  The introductions and bios run for pages and pages.  Topically, the poems run the same playlist as People Magazine, Facebook and the tabloids.

So.  Here we have me, just one person – some tiny little non-entity, who writes poetry with some small success with a nearly non-existent audience, from a fly-over state, – versus, them, who apparently write poetry with great success and a virtually non-existent audience also!  And I find them seriously lame.  But who is to know?

In many ways the situation of Poetry has parallels with the situation of Jazz.  Each suffers a dearth of (earthly) success, but a spate of aspirants.  And the reaction of the general public, to each, is to toss up their hands.  However, each, as the years pass, spawn their aspirants and their fanatics.

I mention Jazz because of this piece by Adam Gopnik, (which I am just going to crib shamelessly from the New Yorker), discussing the work of the American Thinker and Sociologist, Howard Becker:

 

“Tristano taught simple ways of solving puzzles that come up in improvising – for instance, ways of adding flatted fifths and minor ninths to otherwise too familiar chord sequences.  “He showed how to create an essentially unlimited set of possibilities to work with as I played through an evening in a bar,” Becker recalls.  Jazz solos, he learned from his models, were concocted almost entirely “from a small collection of ‘crips,’ short phrases that can be combined in a million ways, subjected to all possible variations.”  The lesson that social performance, even of the highest kind, was more a string of crips than an outpouring of confessions remained at the root of Becker’s understanding of the way the world works.”

Noodle as Editor

Perhaps the reason the majority of poems in the 2014 Anthology seem lame to me, is because I don’t understand what these Poets are doing.  One Poet, Tony Hoagland, whose poem, “Write Whiter” was included in the Anthology, and who has always seemed to me to be preternaturally discerning, wrote this about his poem in his bio:

 

“I don’t consider “Write Whiter” a great poem, nor an exceptional example of TH’s volcanic talent.  Someone easily could have written it.  However, it defines, like a station of the cross, a place in the conversation we are having; its ticket needed to be punched, and so I punched it.”  (italics mine)

 

Perhaps what these poets are doing is playing crips of tunes cribbed from People Magazine and the other ‘Glossie’ Media.  Not being cognizant of the crips – or perhaps being too cognizant of the crips and the source material as heavily clichéd, trite and intellectually shamless leaves me passe’ (to say the least).  Neither their ‘crips’, nor their placement of them, hold the charm for me apparently as they do for their true believers.

But what aggravates me no end is of the beautiful sound, rhythm and meaning which is either abandoned or not even considered in order that the included poem and poet become an included part of the current ‘conversation’.   Most of the beauty (and enjoyment) of poetry is tossed aside, in order to make the secret handshake, pay the coin of the realm, and be taken in by this secretive league of poetry Brahmin.  I’m all for social organizations, but not when their bent is to go about ruining art.

Hey!  I get indignant.

 

Or – perhaps I don’t understand what Art is?  (This realization really chills me…)

 

(Hey!  You don’t care.)  (smiley face)

 

…and I just like Beauty.

 

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5 Responses to “Culture”

  1. How to Read a Poem by friend of Thailand Footprint blogger, Carl | Thailand Footprint: Impressions left by the books, people, places and music of Thailand and South East Asia Says:

    […] via Culture. […]

  2. Kevin Cummings Says:

    Hey, Carl … I went and posted this on my blog at Thailand Footprint. I assumed that would be okay as it should drive traffic back to your site. Good stuff.

  3. petertrumpet Says:

    Hi, Carl, I finally came to the site and finished reading your post. I share a whole lot of your feelings and sense about present-day poetry. I’ve often thought of writing a fairly lengthy piece on it. Having a couple of degrees in Comp Lit from UC Berkeley I’ve encountered a lot of really, really good poetry, and think I understand what the art form is and what makes a poem worth reading and remembering. I’m also a jazz musician, so I understand your jazz-poetry comparison. But I think it’s a lot easier to tell what level of jazz is being played than what level of poetry we’re reading. Or better said, there are standards for analyzing jazz performance, and almost none anymore (that are popularly recognized) for analyzing the level of skill or sophistication, or heart, put into a poem. And I think that nearly everything I’ve read that’s been published over the last 40 years is pretty much bullshit. Some of it’s kind of nice bullshit, sometimes cute, and occasionally has a cute punchline, but it sure ain’t what I’d call poetry. I could go into great detail. But of 20th Century English-language poets, I think almost no one later comes close to Richard Wilbur’s stuff. Or Robert Frost’s, for that matter. Those guys were the real deal. They saw into the soul of language. But my viewpoint is quite unpopular. That’s because popular taste thinks it understands that art, and I don’t accept that understanding as valid. What the heck, maybe one day I’ll tell ’em what I REALLY think.

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