Saturday, June 9, 2012

poems that look like a glass of water

All of the things that a poem can be - that is what interests me.  And then there are those things I want my own poems to be.

"I want to write poems that look like a glass of water but turn out to be gin."

~ Andrew Motion, quoted in this article.

"It is the province of poetry to be more realistic and present than the artificial narratives of an outer discourse, and not afraid of the truthful difficulty of the average human life. A good poem looks life straight in the face, unflinching, sincere, equal to revelation through loss or gain. A good poem brims with reflected beauty and even a bracing beautiful ugliness. At the center of our lives, in the midst of the busyness and the forgetting, is a story that makes sense when everything extraneous has been taken away. This is poetry's province; a form of deep memory; a place from which to witness the intangible, unspeakable thresholds of incarnation we misname an average life."

~ David Whyte, from this article

I like what Whyte says about the bracing beautiful ugliness.

A couple of nights ago the winners of the poetry prize, The Griffin, were announced.  The Canadian winner was Ken Babstock, for Methodist Hatchet.  He was quoted in the Globe and Mail as saying:

"Poetry is a struggle to make sense of the world, from moment to moment, as opposed to other disciplines that try to make sense of the whole. I don’t know society should hold poetry in high regard, but I know it doesn’t. Maybe it’s okay that it occupies a quieter, smaller corner. I would shy away from the prescriptive."

I've been reading poetry pretty diligently and joyously since beginning my undergrad in English over 20 years ago. Before that too, but then it seemed maybe like dabbling in a forbidden world.  Something like that.  I worked part time in a bookstore back then, and was responsible for the poetry section - told I could order in as many books as I liked so long as I could sell them. It was a bookstore in a mall, and the poetry section was on fire.  I'd order in 2 copies of anything I was half interested in or curious about. Usually one ended up on the store shelf, and one came home with me. A lot of contemporary Canadian works, but then stuff like Wallace Stevens, Yeats, Neruda.  I still open books by Paz, by Milosz, Dickinson and find receipts from this bookstore, with the 30 percent off discount applied.  This is when I discovered the American poet Diane Wakoski.  First started reading poets like Anne Carson, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Dahlia Ravikovitch, Dacia Maraini, Kristjana Gunnars.  On and on. There were three categories within the poetry section - Canadian, American and World.   

But of course, there are so many categories of poetry and subcategories. A lot of overlapping.  Lyric, narrative, formal.  There are poetries that are more allusive, more literary, more experimental or conceptual.  There is spiritual poetry, a more sort of 'popular' poetry, if one could ever call poetry popular. Spoken word poetry might come closer to that maybe.  

I try to read a fair bit of poetry in translation.  I read spiritual poetry.  I read more experimental works.  The books I'm picking up most often lately are ones by Phil Hall, by Lyn Heijinian, by Adam Zagajewski and by Hafiz.  

Constantly, the question - what kind of poem do I want to write?  Which is sometimes separate from the question, what poem can I write today?  

I very much like what Babstock says - that it's okay for poetry, (and really any writing), to occupy a smaller corner of this world, to shy away from the prescriptive.  

1 comment:

  1. There something related to these views of vast blue colors that keep the mind relaxed. The skies are one thing but there's also the beautiful ocean to keep you inspired into making wonderful literary works.


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