Thursday, February 07, 2008
Because I write poetry, I often get into conversations with nonpoets about writing and writing poetry in particular. When recently asked about poetry by a person whom I know who holds many advanced degrees but doesn’t often read poetry except as a mental exercise or dessert to his main dish of academic or sociological regular reading, I found myself recommending poets whose work I don’t even read. It crossed my mind that living in this country and continuously consuming the goods and services offered here in the U.S. often leads to a practical view of art (for the nonspecialist). Time won’t be invested (even fifteen minutes) if there won’t be some kind of return on that investment, i.e., what’s in it for me? Art is intrinsically not a practical endeavor but leads the viewer or creator toward an aesthetic experience, i.e., art isn’t typically utilitarian, architecture notwithstanding. So, I ended up finding myself talking about Gary Snyder’s poetry because of its relative accessibility. Snyder used plain language to explore concepts and philosophical questions related to his own quest for understanding and he has lived his life on many continents as a proponent of eco-awareness and green-consciousness before those terms had really even entered the popular vernacular. So, why wouldn’t I recommend to a non-writer of poetry the poetry that I admire and read? I guess the self-editing involved as I size-up the asker of such a question leads me to make certain assumptions based on the asker’s appearance and the context of the question as related to the tone of the conversation that preceded it has a lot to do with my response, too. I’m going to make a conscious effort to not self-edit in the future though when asked this kind of question, because it would be better for anyone interested in reading poetry to dive right in to the best poetry written versus to read selections that are *accessible.*
The more genuine answer would be to say that it would be a good idea to dig up a copy of The Desert Music by William Carlos Williams, Harmonium by Wallace Stevens, The Tennis Court Oath, by John Ashbery, Lunch Poems by Frank O’Hara, or even more recent titles like A Fiddle Pulled from the Throat of a Sparrow, by Noah Eli Gordon, or Do Not Awaken Them With Hammers by Lidija Dimkovska. Picking up great anthologies like Bay Poetics or The City Visible is a good way to gauge what’s going on in poetry right now, too. No more will I recommend poets I don’t even read, although the writing itself may be worthwhile. I shouldn’t do any more corrective steering. I’m not even driving the car.