Tuesday, August 02, 2005


Eric Selinger, on the recently resuscitated Say Something Wonderful, has posted in one place every Ronald Johnson link you'll ever need, including his dandy essay on poetics, "Hurrah for Euphony."
This one I missed first time around, because I don't read its originating periodical, but check it out: August Kleinzahler outfits Garrison Keilor with a brand new Norwegian Bachelor Farmer orifice. Perhaps the best part of the article is a couple of quotations, one of them from Basil Bunting:
Poetry is no use whatever. The whole notion of usefulness is irrelevant to what are called the fine arts, as it is to many other things, perhaps to most of the things that really matter. We who call ourselves "The West," now that we've stopped calling ourselves Christians, are so imbued with the zeal for usefulness that was left us by Jeremy Benthem that we find it difficult to escape from utilitarianism into a real world.

The other a poem by the late Gael Turnbull, "National Poetry Day":
"Transform your life with poetry"
the card said, and briefly I fussed
that this overestimated the effect
until I remembered how it had thrust
several old friends,
plus near and dear,
into distress and penury,
how even I, without the dust
of its magic, might have achieved
peace of mind, even success,
so maybe the advice is just,
not to be ignored, a sort of timely
Health Warning from the Ministry
of Benevolence
at the Scottish Book Trust.

I met Turnbull in Edinburgh five years ago. I phoned him once to see whether we could meet and talk about LZ; he invited us over, and then he and his wife Jill invited us over yet again for a "traditional" Scottish dinner, including a miscellaneous root vegetable dish, a dessert of gooseberry fool, and a steaming haggis (with a vegetarian haggis in reserve, in case we proved of timid stomach). A lovely man.
I can sympathize with Henry Gould's distrust of the long poem business (or should I spell it "longpoem"?); I personally am sick to death of critical sentences that make some kind of funky new genre of The Cantos, The Maximus Poems, and "A" (which isn't to say that I haven't written more than a half-dozen of them myself). Henry:
This long poem thing, the whole grandeurosity... kind of a throwback to an archaic sort of poet's Authority. Has its authoritarian aspect. which is part of the reason I tried to throw Hart Crane & Mandelstam & thems two's inimitable negative capabilities into the mix.

Yez, yes – "And then went down to the ship, set keel to breakers..." "To make a start, / out of particulars / and make them general..." "Off-shore, by islands hidden in the blood..." (Course Hart Crane has his own brand of grandeurosity, which he can deploy in as little as five or six lines, the whole bardic bag o' tricks.) I like what LZ says in 1968:
I simply want the reader to find the poem not dull... A long poem is merely more of a good thing, shall I put it that way?

Sure, why not?

1 comment:

West said...

Hey Mark,

Only had time for a quick visit to your site, but I will bookmark and return as it looks v. interesting.

"Poetry is no use whatever..." That resonates and you could perhaps throw in 'a whole heapa other stuff" - is it possible to talk meaningfully of a culture anymore when we are in the midst of such times as we are? I read a comment by Peter Ackroyd recently on "The Wasteland" - that it was like a poem that had had a bomb placed at the centre of it - and the more I scurf the web, the more I wonder if we have not fully embraced just such a culture: of fragments randomly spinning around a hub of extreme violence and brutality...

"She was an animal - she was a bloody disgrace!"

Now THAT's poetry....