Saturday, September 18, 2010

Call me conventional

Call me conventional or bourgeois. Say my taste is all in my mouth, if you want to be crude and unimaginative. Or call me a philistine, or say I have a "sour grapes" attitude, or a literal mentality.

Much of contemporary poetry leaves me cold.

I just bought a current issue of a literary magazine at one of the local bookstores. One of the elite in the literary world.

I read the fiction and non-fiction pieces with enjoyment, not so the poetry.
I had the same feeling I often have when reading poetry that gets published in literary magazines. Oh, yes, there are images that are arresting but very little I'd call memorable or quotable. It's nothing I would ever want to spend my time rereading or pondering.

It's not that I am unwilling to work a bit to understand a poem when its meaning is not apparent to me at first reading. I find poems that intrigue me enough to reread from time to time, but they seem to be the exception rather than the rule.

I tend to have favorite poems, rather than favorite poets, but here are a few contemporary poets I like: Billy Collins, Maxine Kumin, Rita Dove, and Ted Kooser.

I would like to see more "accessible" poetry (and that doesn't mean Hallmark sentimentality). If this were the case, then I think poetry would have a broader audience and not just belong primarily to the world of academia.

Garrison Keillor's Good Poems is an example of a collection of poetry that I consider more "accessible."

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The poetry of Wallace Stevens

Lately, I've been reading the poetry of Wallace Stevens. I find his poetry of ideas powerful and transcendent. Here are a couple of his poems on the subject of poetry:


Poetry is the supreme fiction, madame.
Take the moral law and make a nave of it
And from the nave build haunted heaven. Thus,
the conscience is converted into palms,
like windy citherns hankering for hymns.
We agree in principle. That's clear. But take
the opposing law and make a peristyle,
and from the peristyle project a masque
beyond the planets. Thus, our bawdiness,
unpurged by epitaph, indulged at last,
is equally converted into palms,
squiggling like saxophones. And palm for palm,
madame, we are where we began. Allow,
therefore, that in the planetary scene
your disaffected flagellants, well-stuffed,
smacking their muzzy bellies in parade,
proud of such novelties of the sublime,
such tink and tank and tunk-a-tunk-tunk,
may, merely may, madame, whip from themselves
a jovial hullabaloo among the spheres.
This will make widows wince. But fictive things
wink as they will. Wink most when widows wince.


That's what misery is,
Nothing to have at heart.
It is to have or nothing

It is a thing to have,
a lion, an ox in his breast,
to feel it breathing there.

Corazon, stout dog,
Young ox, bow-leged bear,
He tastes its blood, not spit.

He is like a man
In the body of a violent beast.
Its muscles are his own...

The lion sleeps in the sun
Its nose is on its paws.
It can kill a man.