[lit-ideas] Re: American poetic scene at the beginning of 72

  • From: "Lawrence Helm" <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 11 Oct 2006 18:38:28 -0700

That's interesting, but what did Roethke have in mind when he wrote the
poem.  That seems critically important to me.  I recall Robert Frost talking
about one of his poems -- I think it was Mending Walls.  He laughed at the
various interpretations of that poem and then described what he had in mind
when he wrote it.  If I recall correctly it was an actual occurrence.  He
didn't intend any of the interpretations people applied to it.  






From: lit-ideas-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx [mailto:lit-ideas-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx]
On Behalf Of Mike Geary
Sent: Wednesday, October 11, 2006 5:00 PM
To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: [lit-ideas] Re: American poetic scene at the beginning of 72


My point, Lawrence, is that there's no correct way to approach literature or
any art.  I tend toward reader-response criticism more than any other,
certainly more so than formalism or New Criticism though I think they all
have valid points to make.  Deconstruction can be fun, but I've never read a
deconstructive critique that brought me more understanding and appreciation
for the work itself, only amusement at life's inherent incoherence.  Knowing
Berryman wrote a poem may tell us something about Berryman, but it says
nothing about the work itself.  Only you as a reader can give meaning to it
or -- as Stanley Fish would say -- only you as a member of a reading


For any not familiar with Reader-Response (or Reader-Oriented) criticism, I
include Roethke's poem's My Papa's Waltz and a URL to a Reader-Response
essay around the poem.


My Papa's Waltz

The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.

We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother's countenance
Could not unfrown itself.

The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.

You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.



The essay is here:




Mike Geary




----- Original Message ----- 

From: Lawrence <mailto:lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxx>  Helm 

To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx 

Sent: Wednesday, October 11, 2006 12:13 AM

Subject: [lit-ideas] Re: American poetic scene at the beginning of 72


Interesting idea Mike, but Dream Songs, Berryman's magnum opus, was
autobiographical.  Henry was a nickname one of his wives, Anne I think, had
for him.  She called him Henry and he called her Mabel.  So if you read the
Dream Songs, whatever your poetical philosophy, you'll know how it ends.


Ages ago poets wrote poems that could be separated from their lives -- at
least that is an idea it would be hard to disprove, Iliad, Odyssey, and
Beowulf, for example, but consider The Divine Comedy.  If we didn't know so
much about Dante we might not have realized that some of those in Hell are
there because Dante was interested in getting even with them.  He was a very
vengeful fellow.  And of course there was a theory in the early 20th century
to the effect that a poet's life had nothing to do with his poetry, but that
idea, I believe, has long since been abandoned.  Now, I believe, most
critics think you need to understand a poet's bio to understand his poetry.
For example, Hugh Kenner wrote The Pound Era and his insights reawakened an
interest in Pound (very difficult to understand without biographical
insights).  And then there is Stephen Burt's Randall Jarrell and his Age.
Jarrell was considered a critic primarily except for a few anthologized
poems, but Burt opened up his poetry to general appreciation. 


However, I didn't mean to imply that my opinion of Berryman's poetry was
affected by my poor opinion of him, if that's what you were thinking.  What
I meant to convey was that Berryman gave up his life, in a manner of
speaking, for his poetry and when I first read it I thought it was marvelous
-- in other words I tended to think it was (arguably) worthwhile to give up
a life for such a body of great poetry.  When I reread it years later it
didn't have the same effect on me.  When I first read it I thought Berryman
would go down as a major poet.  Now I think perhaps not; which, if I am
right in my current opinion of him, means he gave up his life for something
of minor value, so to speak.  So that's one thing I thought.


Another is that they (Berryman and his competitors) may not have been in it
for the absolute value of their poetry but for the fame.  They knew each
other.  Toward the end it was important to Berryman to be considered king of
the poetic hill.  Was he king or was it Lowell?  Lowell seemed to give up
toward the end.  Lots of poets seemed to fall by the wayside, and they held
grudges, Allen Tate for example.  They wanted the poetic prize but couldn't
compete, and they were bitter.  In other words they weren't measuring
themselves against any absolute idea of poetic value but against the
relative idea of who was to be recognized as the top-dog poet.



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