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

  • From: "Lawrence Helm" <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Thu, 12 Oct 2006 14:59:45 -0700

Eric:  Are you saying other people agree with Mike?  I was hoping he was
just nuts.  The article Robert Paul posted,
http://www.newyorker.com/critics/books/articles/061009crbo_books1 , bears on
this in regard to Hart Crane.  Note on page 3 that Harriet Monroe of Poetry
magazine replied to a Crane submittal "with bewilderment, 'Take me for a
hard-boiled unimaginative unpoetic reader, and tell me how dice can bequeath
an embassy (or anything else); and how a calyx (of death's bounty or
anything else) can give back a scattered chapter, livid hieroglyph; and how,
if it does, such a portent can be wound in corridors (of shells or anything
else).  And so on.'


"The poet's reply, which is included in the Library of America volume, has
become a key document of poetic modernism.  Crane admitted that he was 'more
interested in the so-called illogical impingements of the connotations of
words on the consciousness . . . than I am interested in the preservation of
their logically rigid significations.'  What Monroe saw as nonsense Crane
insisted was a higher kind of sense.  He wrote, 'The nuances of feeling and
observation in a poem may well call for certain liberties which you claim
the poet has no right to take.  I am simply making the claim that the poet
does have that authority.'"


This is a slightly different problem than the one Mike presents, but it
seems to me related.  Crane reserves the right to write in accordance with a
design of his own which abjures logic.  I don't have too much of a problem
with the concept, and yet years ago I tried to like Crane's poetry and
failed.  Did his illogicality get in the way of my appreciation?  Was I
being like Harriet Monroe?  I don't recall.  Mike goes a step further than
Crane in reserving the right to be illogical in his understanding, that is,
he is insisting that his understanding need not be logically related to the
poem he is reading.  I have an image here of one of those modern dances.
There is the poet dancing with his poem, and Mike dances nearby in an
unrelated way.  


"Hey Mike, Is what you are doing related to that poet over there or his


"What, are you talking to me?" Mike answers in perplexity.  "What poet?
What poem? I have my own thing going on here and you are bothering me."




-----Original Message-----
From: lit-ideas-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx [mailto:lit-ideas-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx]
On Behalf Of Eric Yost
Sent: Thursday, October 12, 2006 2:16 PM
To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: [lit-ideas] Re: American poetic scene at the beginning of 72


Mike: The student reader-community came to the poem with 

very different cultural assumptions and symbolizations. 

What did Roethke intend?  Who cares?



We should all care and I feel like ranting about it. As 

Bertrand Russell noted in _The ABCs of Relativity_, if 

everything is relative there's nothing for it to be relative 

to. The student-reader community is seldom right about 

poetry, or to be less dogmatic here, the student-reader 

community has an unschooled opinion. That's why they 

are....students. Poetry and the traditions of poetry are 

important especially because they preserve cultural values, 

and as such they are subjects that can be taught, meaning 

that students are unschooled and trained teachers can 

correct their naive understanding.


Instead of taking a cue from TS Eliot's "Tradition and the 

Individual Talent," contemporary poets now give us prose 

lineated as poetry, as generation after generation of poets 

was taught to abandon meter and metaphor altogether in favor 

of trying to write philosophy, social commentary, private 

diaries, and essays with a ragged right edge.


Now poetry is belittled and marginalized -- no longer a 

force for anything in culture, except among an increasingly 

alienated elite who find it difficult to say just what it is 

they're doing, and why, to ordinary people.


The politics of poetry are so vicious because the stakes are 

so small, as Hutchins famously said of academic politics. I 

mean, except as an article to read in the New Yorker that 

you don't even read all of because after a while you realize 

that it's all just the same sort of politics that you're 

reading the New Yorker to avoid thinking about in your own 

life. Instead of apprenticeship to poetry, we have an 

ultrademocratized easy-and-fun-for-beginners approach, based 

on a sense that students can never be wrong.


It's not progress. It's not liberating. It's not cool. It's 

the tedious "old spontaneous me" of Whitman imitation. Get 

out the old bongo drums, snap your fingers, then walk home 

amid the blowing trash and waste of a million egotists who 

never can be wrong.


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