Friday, August 05, 2005

Waitin' on the Curveship

Okay, I am now dining upon my words – that is, there seem to be lots of folks out there learning from and treasuring Crane: not that I necessarily implied that was not the case – probably just extrapolating from my own reactions; to paraphrase Thoreau, I write about myself because of the narrowness of my experience – but HDT was usually careful not to assume his experience was shared by others…

As for Kasey’s “gateway” poets (see comments on last post): Henry, I think you can find an explanatory diagram, either somewhere in Bourdieu’s Distinction, or maybe in Yeats’s A Vision, or maybe in one of those really big illustrated editions of Dante. (I can’t help you with the handshake – but I really dig those little cars the third-stage initiates get to ride around the circus ring in…) Of course, I can’t gauge the proportion of humor to seriousness in Kasey’s schema, but one has to ask – what about the folks who take a first- or second-stage gateway poet (for argument’s sake, Randall Jarrell or Auden) as really the pinnacle of the art? Admittedly, it’s hard to find someone making that argument for Jarrell, but there are a lot people out there who take Auden very seriously indeed, who rank him right up there with Dickinson and Whitman. Isn’t there a matter of fundamentally different standards at play – fundamentally different things one expects poetry to do and be? And how does one negotiate between those different standards without falling into superficial eclecticism? (I dig Lyn Hejinian when I want to see complex issues of memory and perception explored in a tentative manner, and when I’m in the mood for solid statements about the meaning of life, there’s nothing like a bit of Billy Collins…)

I am moved and sympathetic with Henry’s description of what he values in Crane: “that intrepid, improvisational, brave, audacious, crazy, ecstatic spirit of affirmation -the bell rings out - that "exultance", which he flung in the face of Eliot, Yvor Winters, Allen Tate... (& paid for it in their dismissals). This for me is the authenticity of the authentic, the true insignia, the mark of the poet.” On the other hand, I am turned off by the fact that he chose to do so in an early-19th-century diction of “thees” and “thous” and Shelleyan leaps of incongruity. Glorious incongruity, sometimes, but descending way too often into “bombast.” BUT – I have taken note of Henry’s reading list, much of which already seems to be on my shelves, and hope to give HC the attention he deserves before too long.

I suspect that deep down Henry is a gloriously overreaching Romantic and I am but a doctrinaire modernist, still taking seriously all that business about going in fear of abstractions and breaking the pentameter. All about 70 years hoarier and hokier than punk’s DIY “aesthetic.”

(Nothing wrong with the pentameter, by the way – or the tetrameter, or heptameter, or dimeter, for that matter – I just prefer them in a more demotic, less demonstrative vein.)

& Eric's ruminations about “Platonic idealism” in ‘30s poetry – ooh, that’s interesting: was it Duncan who said that LZ replaces the neoplatonic poetics of Pound with an Aristotelian?
All in haste – this probably the penultimate post before we pack up and head for a week in New York, where the chances of poetry-related activities are slim.
Just in the mail – Peter O’Leary’s new chapbook, A Mystical Theology of the Limbic Fissure, all gold and mosaic, Byzantine icons on blood-red backgrounds with aureate halo’d aureoles. (I describe the poems, by the way, tho the illustrations are awesome as well.) Damned good stuff: Msgr. O’Leary bids fair to become the major Catholic poet of our age, Ronald Johnson crossed with Hugh of St. Victor, leaving poor Frank Samperi far in the dust.

1 comment:

Lee said...

[T]here are a lot people out there who take Auden very seriously indeed, who rank him right up there with Dickinson and Whitman. Isn’t there a matter of fundamentally different standards at play – fundamentally different things one expects poetry to do and be?

All right: just for that I'm going to write a close reading of "The Encroachment of History in October 1993," and demonstrate how my enjoyment of that poem depends on its lovely quotation of Auden. (Okay, I won't: this would be the poetry criticism version of "stop hitting yourself." But I do like that poem).

Part of my work (the real work, not the half-baked spurts on my site) on Auden is aimed at showing how disastrously wrong the anthologies get him. While I enjoy "September 1," "Musee" and "In Memmory: W.B. Yeats," I don't think they're "great" poems. But: I also had the experience of really disliking and ignoring Auden when these were all I knew of his work. After reading the early stuff ("Who stands..." and "1929" especially) I had a completely different sense of him as a poet, and those big "I am the people's poet" poems became accessible to me in new ways.

So no: he's not like Dickinson or Whitman, and isn't capable of their genuinely visionary kind of stuff. But I do think he made some fascinating inquiries into an idea of poetry as an alternate form of public speech, or oratory.

More on this when I have time, but that's my preliminary defense. I think he's more important than his detractors think, but probably for different reasons that his defenders think.