Beginning Some Thoughts on the Epic


[The subtitle of this (originally the title, but it may not fit so well now "Fantasia on a Theme by Dylan 618" (apologies to Ralph Vaughn Williams. (Had to use the 618 to approximate the title more accurately--and I do think of this Tallis theme along with "The Lark Ascending" as some of the most beautiful bucolic music of the Twentieth Century. So much so, in fact, that I shall put them on as I compose to guide composition. Below starts the real beginning, so best to hop back up the title, skip this bracketed paragraph and continue as if I had never intruded. This is the Julio Cortazar Corner of my blog.]

Actually, probably not, but Dylan provided me with a wonderful springboard into a theory of poetry. So I quote his entire comment here for constant reference and comment. Thanks Dylan!

Comments by Dylan Yes, bash Hill's Triumph of Love if you must, & do so with my blessing ... The further I get, the more it disaffects. It is erratic, arrhythmic prose.

Much of this poem is senseless post-modernist dreck. I can't wait to get a copy of the earlier poetry to see if there are more lovely poems like the one I posted earlier this week.

I don't mind poems being obscure or fragmented, if there's a heartbeat within the obscurity, if each individual fragment implicates the mind and heart in the writer's own perspective. Heck, I'll read Clark Coolidge from time to time (not all that often) for the sheer fun of the sounds of the words -- as Stephen Fry would say, "Hoversmack tender estimate."

And then there's the jollity of nonsense.

Absolutely concur. I don't mind meaningful fragmentation. I do not mind the obvious disjunctions in Prufrock. What I despise are the deliberately obscure chunks of arcane literature dropped wholesale into the middle of the Wasteland. Wordsworth had no need of this to express the feeling and distress of his time. I do not read huge slabs of incomprehensible work in Browning (because there aren't any). Modern sensibility does not require the fragmentation of the psyche required to understand The Waste Land. One could, in fact, stop with the title of the poem and accept that as the final statement and without much trouble skip much of the rest of the poem. As Dylan has pointed out elsewhere, there are some lovely pieces within the bloat of pretension. One needs to cut down through the blubber and find the muscle--it is there--but why would anyone suffer this much to look for it? There is enough suffering in life already. There is enormous depth in other poems--some of those of Mr. Cummings, even those of Sylvia Plath (if you can get past the constant telegrams of her forthcoming/latest suicide attempts) have some incredible, beautiful depths. "Lady Lazarus," which I half-hate, has some powerful indictments of the intellects that allow for things like the holocaust. It is a brilliant poem marred only by the self-obsession of the later work.

As to nonsense--Lear, Nash, Belloc (yes I said Belloc, his work can be on par with that of one of the great artists of the Twentieth Century, Ogdred Weary [here (do see F, H, and N) and here])and others show us that poetry is marvelous vehicle for the conveyance of much amusement. Lewis Carroll and even some of the very lovely rhymes for Children by Roethke and Kennedy are wonderful examples whereof you speak.

But Hill's lines in Triumph do seem tired, & tiring after a while. It is not "diction that is galvanized against inertia" (Marianne Moore's phrase). The 65th joke about typographical errors, well, after a while it's like those French Connection UK signs that say, "vive le fcuk! [acronym of French Connection UK]" Gets old quite fast.

Oh, the exquisite kindness of this understatement. The work is endlessly self-referential and self aggrandizing. It is a constant melody written on one string--and one that is pitched at a nerve-wracking shrillness.

Good Sir Geoffrey can't be judged, personally, too harshly. He's gotten quite a few laudatory reviews & blurbs, and under the influence of such praise one can start to think that one's every scrawl and scribble is divinely inspired. Plus, all writers (I think) have to experiment -- even at the risk of momentous failure or just plain silliness. The poet's mind must be kept alive, and agile -- think of a great Shakespearean actor doing funny voices, or reciting naughty limericks.

In fact, I don't hold the artist all that responsible for the reasons delineated above and others. The entire critical world is directed toward keeping a poet from his or her rightful audience--the entire world. If one keeps it in the post-modernist, relativist Ivory Tower, then it is an exclusive domain, no one else invited. We can feel good about ourselves because we can wrest meanings from deep hollows, where I suspect little to none actually exists. Much of modern scholarship is a matter of "The Emperor's New Clothes." I have pointed out before the utter preposterousness of concepts such as the (I-kid-you-not: Googilize "Judith Butler""Lesbian Phallus" [in order to protect you from who-knows-what filth]) Lesbian Phallus. Poetry has, in large part, been taken captive, and it is up to the present poets to free it. I think that is one of the reasons I extol Dana Gioia to the point I do. His lyrics have depth, meaning, and beauty (two of the three seem always lacking in some of the much-lauded poetry of his contemporaries). He has indicated a way out of the morass, and I would love to be able to follow it.

Okay, so I didn't even begin to do what I wanted to. But this gives you something to read to start as I continue ruminations. I was thinking about something like "Poetry as Apologetics" or "Poetry as Evangelism" and a continuation of the question of the Epic. Tangential, but integral to the theory I'm constructing in my head.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on November 2, 2002 6:24 PM.

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