Friday, May 2, 2008

Cruising along on momentum

The most recent book of poems by a famous, well-regarded poet does not impress me. I plan to attend a reading by this eminence in the near future, and I hope that the living voice will give life to these words. Why am I not amused? Let me count the ways: the poems are filled with unneeded adjectives pulling me along like a kid resisting the dentist. I don't want to be pulled. I can walk perfectly well, thanks. I have the feet of a poet. The nouns are vague, general, and mostly plural. (Robert Bly warned us years ago about the weakness of plurals.) All of which give a cold, distant aura to the whole book. Poems feed on specifics, no matter how much we want to reach that Grand Unification Theory envied by poets and physicists alike. Please do not tell me over and over about the sea, the moon, the clouds, the wind, the stars. Tell me about Casco Bay and Venus rising, at least. Let the sea be Mediterranean, Atlantic, Sargasso--some real place, not one pretending to be the ultimate symbol of whatever. Some of these poems depend on repetition for their effect. For a line to deserve repeating, it had better be a killer line: "And I have miles to go before I sleep. / And miles to go before I sleep." Or, "Do not go gentle into that good night." Sometimes the great moderns were great.

Was the early work by this poet was always so much like pablum, a sticky consistency meant to nourish but offensive to my palate? Is he resting on his reputation, a grand poo bah of poems?

Well, I feel a little better. Of course, I may relapse after hearing the eminent poet read. Maybe there will be cookies and punch. That won't quite explain the cost of the event, but I will gladly put my money, when I have any, in service to poetry. Funding weak poetry is better than buying guns and grenades. And at least I've said, in reverse, what I want in a poem. Oh, look, that Mallard drake is landing on the pond in front of my window. He's making a wake. I'll go look at him. He's a poet of the best kind.

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