Saturday, September 3, 2016

At least a Limerick evokes an honest belly laugh

There was a time when a gentleman read the Bible, could recite great poetry, could shoot a gun straight, and could diagnose and fix his own car.  There was a time when a gentleman was a man first, and reading, writing, and knowing both history and morality were a part of his education.  Great poetry, like music, speaks directly to the heart, and conveys great truths about ourselves, and humanity, that one can not get any other way.  So, it is with a certain amount of regret that I find modern poetry has fallen into such disrepute.  But more, I note that the times of a civilization's greatest works of poetry correlate with the times of a civilization's peak vigor.  Whether there is a causative relationship is for others to decide, but I find it disturbing that our arts have fallen on hard times, whether it is poetry, or painting, or drama.  It is as if a gold mine has played out, and the few remaining residents of the ghost town can only sit about and regale each other of stories of past glory.
Bruce Deitrick Price has a great article on the plight of modern poetry that I thought readers here might find interesting. He makes many of the same points I made in the post entitled the Like Everything Else It Destroys, the Left Murdered Art. Price's post is entitled The Plight of Poetry. Price writes with a clarity and a lucidity that I can only hope for, and of course, he is correct. A few quotes should give you the flavor, and I hope, encourage you to check out his blog:
Quick, name a famous living poet. I bet that 99.99% of Americans can’t do this. When I was a boy, they actually interrupted pop music on the radio to say that T. S. Eliot had died. Can you imagine this today? Once the lusty Queen of the arts, Poetry now seems dithering and irrelevant. What happened??
I will save you looking up when T. S. Eliot died by just telling you he died in 1965.
Fifty years ago we still had great and greatly famous poets. But after World War II, the universities swelled in number and size, and professors swelled with ambition. Poetry got kidnapped by publish-or-perish careerists (because universities count poems as “scholarly publications”). MFA programs claiming to teach the “craft” of poetry--never mind that it’s an art--sprouted like mushrooms. Dozens of little magazines, subsidized by university budgets and infused by academic hauteur, claimed to present true poetry. A small group (were there even a thousand of these people?) wrote, published, reviewed, praised, and gave awards to each other’s poems, all the while sniffing disdain at anything from outside their circle.
Robert Frost was also still alive when I was a student. William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, and others were still alive, or recently deceased. Only a generation earlier, they had known in a similar way Alfred Lord Tennyson, the Brownings, Ezea Pound, and Walt Whitman, to name a few.

The great poets did not feel the need to reference other poets. Indeed, I suspect the modern habit of referencing other poets is to show that the writer of such poetry has read and studied these other poets. It is like a song about music; nice, but insipid.  But poetry wasn't always an effete and obscure affair, and didn't always mumble like a bad actor with poor enunciation.  Time was when poems, sang of great victories, and bitter defeats, of otherworldly loves, and star crossed lovers.  In short, poems, great poems inspired great thoughts:
Whereas McPoetry is usually tired and gauzy, great poetry is typically energetic and lucid. Opaque poetry? Unless it’s at the level of Ezra Pound and Wallace Stevens, let’s not go there. (Billy Collins, a poet laureate, crafts his poems so they can be understood on a first reading; you can guess that McPoets hate this guy.) The language of great poems is generally intriguing on its own; but typically you fall through the language into the story or epiphany. No story or epiphany? Why write? And great poetry almost always gives you a grin or a chill, a sigh or a shudder. They’re emotional. McPoems tend to murmur faintly.
Who today writes with vigor and emotion? Our songwriters may be the exemplars. One of the pleasures of being in a Karaoke bar is to really study the lyrics on the screens, study them as if they are great poetry. Some are. You just know, if they published a book of Recent Poetry That Actually Made Somebody’s Heart Beat Faster, most of it would be by the Beatles and 50 other rock and rollers, Tin Pan Alley wordsmiths, blues and country singers, rappers, and other outcasts.
One finds better writing in a Limerick than in much of modern poetry. At least a Limerick evokes an honest belly laugh.

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