A place for the genuine Poetry I, too, dislike it. Reading it, however, with a perfect con tempt for it, one discovers in it, after all, a place for the genuine. Marianne Moore
Pretty harsh criticism for poetry . . . especially coming from a poem itself! And the author, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who has committed (besides her scorn) sixty years of life to the making of poetry. Curious. . .Skip to next paragraph
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Contemporary verse seems to merit such extreme mixed feelings. Never before have there been so many poets actively pursuing the Muse (and the editors of magazines). Never have there been such a diversity and intensity of poetic voices and styles; the bookstores and magazine stands are overstocked with new titles, new discoveries . . . unbrowsed.
We poets have a bitter realization to deal with: no one is listening.
Well, perhaps "no one" is an exaggeration. But the portion of society that enthusiastically receives the work of literary artists is only slightly larger than that which studies recent research on solar-powered pinking shears . . . and a thousand times smaller than the devotees of the leastm popular Gothic/Romance novelist. And (I am forced to admit) with good reason: poets appear to be speaking to no one but themselves. The technique, the subject matter, and the style of thought in much of the work published today, is aimed solely at other practitioners of the trade. Why shouldm anyone else listen?
In the Victorian era, poetry had wandered off into the bright chambers of the aristocracy and the rarefied heights of the precious and the mystical. Walt Whitman, brash American writer, began a momentum in the late 19th-century to return poetry to the people, to reunite it with song and the common tongue, to direct its concerns toward the occupations and passions of this shared world. In 1980, poetry again finds itself drifting to the extremes: sequestered in the faculty towers of universities and stealing through the narrow labyrinths of urban existences. The poets sing back and forth to those who share their limb in society. In both camps, there is tacit acceptance of the principle that anyone living any otherm sort of life is too far lost to bother reaching.
Poetry has traditionally consisted of experiences so beautiful, so sad, so powerful or so subtle that a writer could not help but attempt some expression of its magic. The challenge is to listen simultaneously for the heart of the experience andm its reflection in language. The double astonishment in this process is that one's personal grasp of the moment does not limit its communality. On the contrary, the focus of attention on the moment seems to contain as well the bridge to a universal sense of wonder. Stated or not, there is an intuitive urge to cross from one man's or one woman's heart to the heart of all humanity.
During the 20th-century, our society has been jolted by so many cultural explosions, awesome discoveries and fears that the "heart of humanity" idea is painfully removed, too idealistic to risk considering. The self, the personal experience, is all we can hope to possess. Similarly, poetry's main concern has become poetry; the poet is preoccupied with his own private perspective. All "heart" and "passion" and "wonder" have been discounted in the poetic stock; a poet without "a name" will find it nearly impossible to publish such "gushy, over emotional" explorations. "Technique" is the reigning deity -- the razor-agile, chrome-plated quality that distinguishes poetry from any other words a human might ever speak. It's as if -- fearing that real spirit in art is no longer explicable -- the quantifiable commodity of craftm is then enshrined in Western literature as the only criterion for excellence. What we've produced from this attitude is a younger generation of writers as highly skilled in the device of language as one could imagine -- but as sardonic and dispassionate toward the human condition as Dante's worst fears could predict.