experience becoming

March 29, 2020

November 5, 2006

Dear Xavier High School, and Ms. Lockwood, and Messrs Perin, McFeely, Batten, Maurer and Congiusta:

I thank you for your friendly letters. You sure know how to cheer up a really old geezer (84) in his sunset years. I don’t make public appearances any more because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana.

What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.

Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you’re Count Dracula.

Here’s an assignment for tonight, and I hope Ms. Lockwood will flunk you if you don’t do it: Write a six line poem, about anything, but rhymed. No fair tennis without a net. Make it as good as you possibly can. But don’t tell anybody what you’re doing. Don’t show it or recite it to anybody, not even your girlfriend or parents or whatever, or Ms. Lockwood. OK?

Tear it up into teeny-weeny pieces, and discard them into widely separated trash receptacles. You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem. You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what’s inside you, and you have made your soul grow.

God bless you all!

Kurt Vonnegut

…the cruellest blow comes when Plath discovers the poems that Hughes has been writing to his lover, and is unable to prevent herself from acknowledging their artistry. “Many are fine poems,” she writes to Beuscher on September 29, 1962. “Absolute impassioned love poems.” She quotes a line she cannot forget: Now I have hacked the octopus off my ring finger.

Which sounds more like one of the lines she was beginning to write, because Plath in her last weeks, in the cold London house, between sleeping pills and crying babies and an unrelenting flu, was being gripped and twisted by the wild poems that became the book Ariel. “It is like writing in a train tunnel, or God’s intestine,” she writes to the Anglo-Irish poet Richard Murphy. (“Lady Lazarus”: Out of the ash / I rise with my red hair / And I eat men like air.) It all feels so unsteady, so precarious, so barely controlled. Was Ariel a breakdown, or an artistic consummation? Both, obviously. The great big chomping Ariel voice is intoxicated with its own power; it glitters and it damns.

The telling and retelling of this story will not end soon, because at the core of the Plath/Hughes nexus, the marriage of their talents, is a mythically compelling irony. He, full of agency, honouring his deep drives, etc., etc., does the boring thing: He has an affair. She, trapped and reduced and overwhelmed, does the remarkable thing: She writes a masterpiece. He, formerly the main character, exits shabbily sideways, while she explodes into an agony of authenticity. And then — hand in hand with winter, fever, and heartbreak — it kills her.

James Parker
The Haunting Last Letters of Sylvia Plath

demands pronunciation

March 27, 2020

Truly fine poetry must be read aloud. A good poem does not allow itself to be read in a low voice or silently. If we can read it silently, it is not a valid poem: a poem demands pronunciation. Poetry always remembers that it was an oral art before it was a written art. It remembers that it was first song.

Jorge Luis Borges
The Divine Comedy
Trans. Eliot Weinberger

a tantalizing vagueness

March 17, 2020

A poem begins with a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a love sickness. It is never a thought to begin with. It is at its best when it is a tantalizing vagueness. It finds its thought and succeeds; or doesn’t find it and comes to nothing.

Robert Frost
letter to Louis Untermeyer, 1st January 1916

certain strange moments

March 12, 2020

The pleasures of great poetry are many and varied, and Tennyson’s “Ulysses” is, for me, an endless delight. Only rarely can poetry aid us in communing with others; that is a beautiful idealism, except at certain strange moments, like the instant of falling in love.

Harold Bloom
How to Read and Why

Reasons to love poetry

March 5, 2020

One of the reasons people love poetry is that they find in a poem something which resonates with their own experience, whether that is in Ferlenghetti writing in the 1980s about the erosion of freedom or Alan Spence, who can pinpoint in the few haiku syllables a moment which is both unique and entirely recognisable.

Susan Mansfield
Poetry review StAnza 2019

The poet’s role

March 4, 2020

In the internet age, where we are at liberty to download such a plethora of texts – to reproduce them, recycle them, change their appearance by altering font, typeface, spacing, size – context and framing become the key elements. The poet’s role has become, in the literal sense, that of a word processor, finding how best to absorb, recharge and redistribute the language that is already there…

What, in this new poetry, has happened to the authentic voice?…The fabled ‘sensitivity’ of the Creative Writer gives way to a sensitivity to language that is almost like a fever – a sensitivity that has been the distinguishing mark of the poet from the Troubadours to George Herbert…Emily Dickinson…Susan Howe…

Marjorie Perloff

On poetry as the language art – PN Review

haiku is a genre of poetry

February 28, 2020

What seems most difficult for some people to understand is that haiku is a genre of poetry, not merely a form.

Indeed, the great majority of haiku now published in English does not follow a set syllabic form, but pay greater attention to another aspect of haiku form, its internal structure. Haiku are generally composed of two parts with a caesura or pause between them. When the images comprising the two parts are well chosen, this pause allows for internal comparison between the images. When the poem is written in three lines, the pause usually occurs at the end of either the first or the second line. This produces two parts of unequal length, which preserves the asymmetry that is an important characteristic of Japanese haiku form. Kôji Kawamoto has named these two parts the ‘base’ and the ‘sumperimposed part.’ According to Kawamoto, the base of the poem provides interest while the superposed part provides significance.

Lee Gurga
Richard Wright’s Place in American Haiku
The Other World of Richard Wright: Perspectives on His Haiku, ed. Jianquing Zheng

new stories can root

February 13, 2020

When we let ourselves respond to poetry, to music, to pictures, we are clearing out a space where new stories can root, in effect we are clearing a space for new stories about ourselves.

Jeanette Winterson
Testimony Against Gertrude Stein

we often ask ourselves this question: what road or path shall I follow? I’ll always choose that of poetry, ’cause it keeps our hearts young, and even though it has to go through a tunnel, I’ll try to reach its end of light…I’ve just reread some of Jacques Prévert’s works, and I totally agree with his definition: “Poetry? – I don’t really know what it is, but it’s the loveliest nickname given to LIFE…”

Ella Wheeler-Wilcox
POETRY & LOVE keep my heart young