Tuesday 23


Filed under: Poetry — Tags: — zundel @ pm

Randall Jarrell had a knack for criticism that makes you want to go read the poem.

Likewise, Francis-Noël Thomas‘s article Moving and Memorable on the newest edition of Larkin sends me out to reacquire a volume, hopefully one of the original books.

quoting Larkin:

It was Eliot who gave the modernist poetic movement its charter in the sentence, “Poets in our civilization, as it exists at present, must be difficult,” and it was Betjeman who was to bypass the whole light industry of critical exegesis that had grown up round this fatal phrase by demonstrating that a direct relation with the reading public could be established by anyone able to be moving and memorable.

Thomas and Mark Turner co-authored one of my all time favorite books: Clear and Simple as the Truth: Writing Classic Prose; second edition recently published.


Saturday 156

Excoriator, killing 99 per cent of all known hypocrisies

Filed under: Mind, Poetry, Society — Tags: — zundel @ pm

I always start the weekend FT at the back to read Harry Eyres.

Is there a corner for poetry?” by Harry Eyres in The Financial Times 2009-06-06

“I hate poetry,” said this young man and, to make matters clearer: “I don’t believe in free expression.” For all the rebarbativeness of his remarks, I felt afterwards he was being more helpful and honest than all the bland promoters of poetry, or purveyors of a product called poetry that is not the real thing.

“Poetry, above all, is an approach to the truth of feeling,” says Rukeyser with admirable simplicity.

Poetry is up against it in all sorts of ways. Unlike video games, reality television, amateur dance troupes, it is not a cultural phenomenon that is generally welcomed into people’s lives.

I should read Harry more often. He refreshes me. And he reminds me what I value. I’d like to be him.


Tuesday 26

Inaugurating poetry

Filed under: Poetry — Tags: — zundel @ pm

The sound of breaking butterfly cheers me immensely:

Inaugural Verse” by Rudolph Delson in n+1 2009-01-19

It is not, in fact, so hard to know what to make of Elizabeth Alexander. She is a poet who, this Tuesday, will earnestly attempt to do something that may well be beyond her talents.

Adam Kirsch on Elizabeth Alexander’s Bureaucratic Verse” in “The Plank” at The New Republic 2009-01-20

Thursday 352

Keith Douglas and poetry misread

Filed under: Poetry, Politics — Tags: — zundel @ am

from “How to Kill” (1943) by Keith Douglas (1920–1944)

Under the parabola of a ball,
a child turning into a man,
I looked into the air too long.

Douglas had a voice appropriate to his war and technique to use it.

Jon Glover brackets a review mostly about Keith Douglas with genuflections to ideology. He quotes Douglas’s peer Sidney Keyes:

Person and Politics: Commitment in the Forties” by Jon Glover in Poetry Nation 1974

In an insecure, unplanned society such as ours, no one has a right to complain that art is obscure or out of touch with the people; this state of affairs is inevitable, and will remain so, as long as the structure of society itself stands between him and his potential audience. While the mass of the people are excluded from full participation in the necessary activities of society, among which artistic appreciation is one of the most important, all Art for the People will be bad art, and nearly all good art will be obscure and exclusive. (Keyes, “The Artist in Society”, Minos of Crete, p 149)

Keyes accurately describes the result: bad art for the people, and the obscure. He mistakes the obscure for good. And he ignores that most good art existed before him, from times even less secure.

And Glover persistently slips on ideology and misreads Douglas.

Glover’s invocations of ideology seem silly from the distance of more than thirty years. But they do matter. We inherit the legacy of this criticism.

Did Marxist literary criticism license inaccessible art?

Simplify Me When I’m Dead” wrote Douglas.

Read the poems.

Friday 346

Poetry with footnotes

Filed under: Poetry — Tags: — zundel @ am

John Donne wrote complicated poetry. Called metaphysical, he wrote unusually realistic and sensual poems. Poor and ambitious, he too often reached to display his erudition. But his metaphors grabbed his readers. Now we need footnotes.

Classically educated readers of poets in dead languages gave Donne 20th century attention. So many footnotes.

And much of modern poetry went off into obscurantism. Imagery and words, poets’ tools for conveying, became methods to conceal. Abstruse got praise.

Good poems have something to tell. A poem has no purpose making a reader search for meaning. The dense crafted ambiguity of poetry should reveal at least one meaning.

Perhaps reading the great but now footnoted leads to the naive assumption that great poetry must conceal its meaning. Perhaps apparatus got mistaken for seriousness. 

Poetry has mostly returned from recondite metaphors—some never wandered. But concern for clear meaning among poetry’s many beauties seems to have got misplaced.

Tuesday 343


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.

Wednesday 330

Kitchen criticism

Filed under: Poetry — Tags: — zundel @ am

I work my way through Camile Paglia’s Break, Blow, Burn and with it reread Paul Fussell’s masterful Poetic Meter and Poetic Form. Clive James’s criticism goes nicely with what Paglia values and gives close reading and what Fussell analyses and explains. Highly recommended.

Little Low Heavens” by Clive James in Poetry 2008-09

If one has ever built a sonnet oneself, however unremarkable or clumsy the result, the experience must be a help in assessing the prodigious flexibility of Shakespeare’s craft within a set form,…

The admiring reader is always potentially censorious, because the enjoyment is so childish: do it again.


Thursday 317

Quote of the day

Filed under: Poetry, Quote — zundel @ pm

‘Break, Blow, Burn’: Well Versed” by Clive James in The New York Times 2005-03-27

The proud motto of every suckerfish is: we swim with sharks.

If we want a book to do more than what it does, that’s a condemnation. If we want it to do more of what it does, that’s an endorsement.

Read this well written review. It fires a slightly slow day, and inspires me to get on with rereading those introductions to WW1 poets.

Tuesday 315


Filed under: Poetry, Society — Tags: , — zundel @ pm

from “Exposure” (1918) by Wilfred Owen (1893–1918)

Pale flakes with lingering stealth come feeling for our faces—
We cringe in holes, back on forgotten dreams, and stare, snow-dazed,
Deep into grassier ditches. So we drowse, sun-dozed,
Littered with blossoms trickling where the blackbird fusses.
Is it that we are dying?

My favorite stanza ever.
He was killed in action one week before the armistice.
Wilfred Owen in 1916

In memorial I have written a bibliography.
Having gotten the books off the shelf, I think I’ll go buy a bottle of beer and a snack, and spend the evening rereading the introductions.

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: