I, too, dislike poetry
With an example of Marianne Moore's poetry in today's ''Loose-leaf library,'' we thought of the enduring words she wrote for Monitor readers of her generation in an ''Author Speaks'' article of 1958.Skip to next paragraph
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Of poetry I once said, ''I, too, dislike it''; and say it again of anything mannered, dictatorial, disparaging or calculated to reduce to the ranks what offends one. I have been accused of substituting appreciation for criticism, and justly, since there is nothing I dislike more than the expose or any kind of revenge. And I like the straight order of words - subject, predicate, object; in reverse order only for emphasis, as when Pope says:
Men must be taught as if you taught them not, And things unknown proposed as things forgot.
Dazzled, speechless - an alchemist without implements - one thinks of poetry as divine fire, a perquisite of the gods. When under the spell of admiration or gratitude, I have hazarded a line, it never occurred to me that anyone might think me a poet. As said previously, if what I write is called poetry it is because there is no other category in which to put it.
Nor is writing exactly a pastime - although when I was reading H. T. Parker's music page in the Boston Evening Transcript, in what it is not speaking too strongly to call an ecstasy of admiration, to be writing in emulation, anything at all for a newspaper, was a pleasure: no more at that time than woman's suffrage party notes, composed and contributed at intervals to the Carlisle Evening Sentinel.
I am reminded somewhat of myself by Arnold Toynbee's recital of his spiritual debts - indebtedness to his mother for awakening in him an interest in history, ''to Gibbon for showing what an historian can do''; to ''people, institutions . . . pictures, languages, and books'' as exciting his ''curiosity.'' Curiosity; and books. I think books are chiefly responsible for my doggedly self-determined efforts to write; books and verisimilitude; I like to describe things. I well understand the entrapped author of an autiobgraphy in three volumes, who says he rewrote the first volume some 26 times ''before I got it to sound the way I talk.''
What simple statement, in either prose or verse, really is simple? Wary comportment is indicated where an inaccurate word gives an impression more exact than could be given by a verifiably accurate term, as when someone says, ''my music is silent'' or ''dew held the gardens tightly in gooseflesh.''
It is for himself that the writer writes, charmed or exasperated to participate; eluded, arrested, enticed by felicities. The result? Consolation, rapture, to be achieving a likeness of the thing visualized. One may hang back or launch away. ''With sails flapping, one gets nowhere. With everything sheeted down, one can go around the world'' - an analogy said to have been applied by Woodrow Wilson to freedom.
Combine with charmed words certain rhythms, and the mind is helplessly haunted. In his poem, ''The Small,'' Theodore Roethke says:
A wind moves through the grass,
Then all is as it was.m
Form is synonymous with content - must be - and Louis Dudek is perhaps right in saying, ''The sound of the poem heard by the inner ear is the ideal sound''; surely right in saying, ''The art of poetry is the art of singular form.'' Poetry readings have this value, they lead one to wish to be articulate and avoid blurred effects. It should not be possible for the listener to mistake ''fate'' for ''faith'' - in ''like a bulwark against fate.'' The 5-line stanzas in my ''Collected Poems'' warn one to write prose or short-line verse only, since my carried-over long lines make me look like the fanciest, most witless rebel against common sense. Overruns certainly belong at the right - not left - of the page.
As for the hobgoblin, obscurity, it need never entail compromise. It should mean that one may fail and start again, never mutilate an auspicious premise. The objective is architecture, not demolition; grudges flower less well than gratitudes. To shape, to shear, compress and delineate; to ''add a hue to the spectrum of another's mind'' as Mark Van Doren has enhanced the poems of Thomas Hardy, should make it difficult for anyone to dislike poetry!