Poetry and Poets: May 2005 Archives

Too Much on Poetry

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An interested reader wrote and asked if it felt good to be speaking poetry once again. And it does. It is my native tongue. When I'm here I hear it everywhere. I hear people speak and it is natural poetry, I see the orchids on the altar and it is natural poetry, I move and it is kinesthetic poetry (only internally--I can't vouch for those of you watching).

Poetry is a native tongue and I have been speaking it too infrequently in the past several years. I am glad to be back and I have to thank for it the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the constant creativity of Lofted Nest. Thank you.

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No measure I could make of today could
tell me what tomorrow holds, neither heat
nor height, rain nor depths, clouds nor width, none would
tell me what's in the day ahead. I see
not through a glass darkly, I do not see
at all, and count myself blessed for blindness.
If I knew all that lay in store, courage
would fail me. In this silence God gives rest
from the world, its woes, its wealth, its well
of sorrow, poverty, despair and strife,
and awakens joy in the day--a swell
of gratitiude that overshadows life.
Seeing our future might seem a delight
but God is good to keep tomorrow night.

© 2005, Steven Riddle

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Yesterday I meant to say something about modern poetry. I had checked two books of The Year's Best Poetry out of the library to see if trends had changed yet.

The answer is, unfortunately, no. The Academic community appears to have poetry still firmly in its death grip, determined to choke the life out of it. And but for places like this and Lofted Nest, and other appreciators of poetry scattered around, they might well succeed. Although they tried the same with the novel, but Beckett, Robbe-Grillet, and their ilk could not kill a genre so entrenched in the popular mind. However, as we enter the age of the post literate, it appears that they may have their way with the novel yet. (My only hope comes from the popularity of The DaVinci Code, which convinces me that the academics have a ways to go before they can overcome the lure of truly poor writing.)

But, back to poetry for the moment. Flipping through this book of best of, I came upon a "poem" that consisted of nothing but blank pages with a small line and a series of footnotes. The postmoderns have triumphed in making modern poetry as vacuous and empty of delight as most postmodern art. There's no point in belaboring this--what the academic community has served up as great poetry has all but killed the genre. There is no delight in language, the is no sense of joy in discovery. Instead, we have the apotheosis of the confessional poets, staring in the mirror and noting what they see as footnotes to emptiness.

In these anthologies, there was not a single poem in a classic mode. Nothing that required the skill and artifice of a villanelle, a sonnet, or even a haiku. Free verse, and less, made up the entirety of the contents. And this is a shame because there are a great many poets producing poetry of substance that cannot make it into the market because of the academic stranglehold.

Dana Gioia asked the question some years ago as to whether poetry were dead or not. It's not dead, to that I can testify, but it's looking a lot moribund. I can only hope that the establishment eventually peters out and poetry is recovered by poets who (a) have something to say and (b) say it in a way that is memorable.

No wonder poetry has so small an audience. It's a shame because as children we have Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein and endless other wonderful, rollicking poems to read that vanish as we head toward adulthood. Perhaps children's poets should enter the market and take over. A Child's Book of Verse for adults--think about the potential. I have no doubt that nearly everyone out there can think about snippets of stuff they liked as a child. It was merely the first whiff of modern free verse that we instinctively recoiled at.

I look at the great forked road in poetry--Dickinson on one hand, Whitman on the other. And though I used to be a partisan of the latter, I discover now my affinity for the former. There is less and less of Whitman about me, and more and more of Dickinson, and I consider that a blessing.

So it leads me to my new motto--Free Verse! Write sonnets

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Poetry and Poets category from May 2005.

Poetry and Poets: April 2005 is the previous archive.

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