[lit-ideas] Re: Vendleriana

  • From: Lawrence Helm <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sun, 09 Aug 2015 11:15:20 -0700

There has apparently never been a poetry critic quite like Helen Vender. She truly understands what the poet has in mind. Her refusal to accept systems allows her to accept whatever the poet is doing. Other critics (scholars by her definition) would present theories asserting what the poet "means." Helen Vendler's analyses remind me of Biblical exegesis. Of course many Biblical scholars imposed a system upon the Biblical narrative, but modern Biblical scholars, with all those dead-end theories behind them, try not to.

It has always seemed to me (without evidence) that someone who does not write poetry is at a disadvantage when discussing a poets poems. On the other hand, many poets have also been critics. T. S Eliot is a modern example. He was certainly influential, but he has advanced theories that seem to be no longer widely accepted. Vendler deals with individual poems; so her writings may exist as long as the poet's poems do -- at least for serious readers. Vendler claims not to have any over-arching theories; however, here is a review of her latest book and the reviewer doesn't completely agree with that assertion: http://www.openlettersmonthly.com/reading-poetry/


On 8/9/2015 9:51 AM, (Redacted sender Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx for DMARC) wrote:

Does a poetry critic NEED to write poetry?
Well, apparently, that was a criticism addressed to Zeno Vendler's wife.
But in a message dated 8/8/2015 3:10:38 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time,
lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx writes: Helen Vendler in her latest book writes that
she did write poetry.
i. Helen Hennessy Vendler wrote poetry.
ii. Helen Hennessy Vendler wrote good poetry.
iii. A: I recently acquired the copy of Helen Hennessy Vendler's
Collection of Poems.
---- B: How come?
---- A: Excuse me?
---- B: How come?
---- A: Are you German: "how come" is "wie kommst".
---- B: I mean, how? She never published them.
iv. An unpublished poem is still a poem -- Emily Dickinson.
Helm quotes from Hennessy Vendler:
"I wrote m first "poem" at six."
She means six years old. (Geary adds: "It's important to use qualifying
phrases ALWAYS).
She continues:
"I thought that a poem was something that scanned and rhymed."
The implicature is that it isn't. But surely this is cancellable. Cfr.
Helen's Doppelgaenger:
v. I thought that a poem was something that scanned and rhymed, and right I
was -- and at that early age -- six years old -- too!
The 'real' (as Popper would have it) Helen Hennessy goes on:
"It wasn't until I was fifteen, when I read and memorized a whole batch of
Shakespeare's sonnets, that I saw that a poem could tell the truth about
one's inner being."
Implicature: as opposed to be MERELY something 'that scanned and rhymed'.
Her hubby would have her aiming at conceptual analysis:
a poem is a poem iff
(a) it scans and rhymes
(b) it tells the Tarskian truth about one's inner being -- "if you have
one", Professor Patricia Churchland adds.
Helen Hennessy goes on:
"In a night of what then seemed visionary insight, I wrote, at one sitting,
five Shakespearean sonnets,"
where Shakespearian is an essentially obligatory adjective: it does not
mean "by Shakespeare!". Cfr. Chattertwon's parodies.
"and launched myself into a steady and secret writing of verse. It was
for the following ten years the only honest part of my life."
That is from 15 to 25 years of age.

Helm adds:

"I'll skip the dishonest part of her life which had to do with being raised
Catholic and secretly resisting what she was taught."
Chemistry at the Emmanuel.
Hennessy-Vendler continues:

"My verse writing continued sporadically in graduate school. I felt,
though that there was something my poems didn't have, though I tried to make
them both emotionally accurate and formally competent. At last, as I happily
wrote my dissertation, I found my true genre, the more prosaic one of
criticism, and my desire to write poetry slipped away. (I much later realized
that I don't possess the Coleridgean 'continual reverie' of imagination I
don't live life on two planes at once as imaginative people do.) I felt

some guilt about ceasing to write poetry, and wondered whether I had betrayed a
vocation. In my thirties, I was at a party where Robert Lowell, Anne
Sexton, and Elizabeth Bishop were present, and one of them asked me if I wrote
poetry. I confessed to my lingering guilt and self-questioning about
stopping. They laughed me to scorn, telling me that if I'd been meant to be a
poet and had tried to stop, I'd immediately have found myself prey to
migraines, indigestion, insomnia, or something worse, that the Muse will not be
balked of her own. I felt much better."

Perhaps she missed the implicature?
I would take Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton and Elizabeth Bishop as being an

offensive triad! But then I have read Dumézil!*

*Dumézil proposed that ancient Indo-European society followed a tripartite
model involving three classes - Priest, Warrior and Peasant. Triadic forms
are characteristic of Indo-European conceptual structures.
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