zundel

Tuesday 343

Eliot

Filed under: Poetry — Tags: — zundel @ am

Don’t let the word get in the way of the poem. That’s the problem with Eliot. Indeed, if you find just the right word, use it, and consider it an opportunity to introduce or reintroduce a good word. But otherwise choose words that don’t distract from the poem.

I’m not Eliot’s best living reader. A scholar in some university somewhere remains Eliot’s best reader. Poor Eliot. But he did it to himself. Though not the exegete in the corner of some department, I am one of the better readers Eliot could have available, and even when I’ve already read or written all the footnotes, I don’t reread Eliot: he’s not worth the work.

I do reread Donne. Donne took work to learn. And now that I’ve read all the footnotes, still takes some work to reread—or I just skip the bits where I don’t remember the meaning. But I reread Donne often and with pleasure. Donne keeps the flourishes down, though notorious flourishes they are. And I can enjoy the poetry between the flourishes and how a flourish gets connected.

Eliot makes me work just to get across a line and never really lets me enjoy the poem.

Eliot had use as a critic. Not for his criticism but for his prominence. His criticism was rather plain and obvious. But I thank him for it because it brought forth some poets I value. He took seriously and filled the first role of any critic: praise and bring notice to the good. The arrogance of Eliot’s insecurity got mistaken for confidence in a time that poetry desperately needed confidence. I sorely wish Eliot less mimicked in the writing of poetry, but I appreciate some of the mementos of his work.

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