One of Those Days

It’s been one of those days.  This morning I discovered that my laptop has been infected with spyware, so I can’t use it until the spyware is removed.  As a result, I could not do any work that required a laptop.  I have a netbook, on which I am typing this post, but it’s too small to type on well, and for someone who’s used to touch-typing rather quickly, it’s almost impossible to use for serious work.  So I spent the day doing work for which I did not need a laptop: writing by hand part of a story I’ve promised to an anthology, and then reading through the first chapter of my dissertation.  I need to revise the second chapter in the next two weeks, but in order to do that, I need to understand what I wrote in the first chapter.  And I need to revise that as well.  The final section on anthropology and the monster is not as strong as I want it to be.

So what to do? I promised myself that I would post every day, but my brain is empty of anything interesting and filled with all sorts of things you probably don’t want to read about. Except that I did have some ideas about poetry, coming from having read some of the poems in Mythic Delirium 23.

Recently, I read a blog post about the best poetry books of 2010. It included some of the best lines from each book, and as I read them, I could feel a sort of sinking sensation. Based on those lines, there was almost nothing on the list that I would enjoy reading. And I thought, as I usually do when it comes to poetry, that it must be me – I must just have terrible taste in poetry. (Although I did want to read the Paul Muldoon and a new edition of Ezra Pound. Those sounded interesting.) I mean, when I read a standard Norton anthology of poetry, I love almost everything in it. And I love early modernism, Eliot and Auden and those guys. Even quite a lot of Stevens. And then something happens, and I find very little that I love anymore. Some Anne Sexton. Some Sylvia Plath. But so much of it goes flat for me.

But I do know what I like, what I respond to. As examples, I’m going to give you stanzas from two poems, both published in Mythic Delirium 23.

Ovid’s Two Nightmares
by Sonya Taaffe

Not like Odysseus to his wife’s ever-olive arms
nor like Agamemnon to the unapologetic knife
I return, the patron of exiles repatriated
windburned, ink-stained, grey-haired as the sea
tossing chips of rime on a black shore,
old Daedalus disbelieving the labyrinth’s fall.
So many spilt words, so many missteps
like across my hands like shadows in the afternoon,
ripening lemon and bay, the grape’s bitter leaves.
So many ghosts sent begging for salt and violets
hang back quivering in the August sun.

She Who Rules the Bitter Reaches
by C.S.E. Cooney

In avalanche silence, the unceasing breezes
Sculpt from the mountain a luminous keep
Lay carpets of snowflake and beds all of diamond
Preparing a nest for the Winterbird’s sleep

Here she will live, in an ice-blooming vastness
Her breath forming opal of flesh and of stone
Here she will rest in this radiant fastness
A splendor of silver and feather and bone

If you want to read the rest of these poems, you’ll have to order Mythic Delirium 23 . . .

What I want poetry to do, those two poems do for me. They send me somewhere only poetry can send me, to a place that is like the top of a mountain, where the air is clear. They give me a sense of joy, almost of ecstasy, as though my mind were dancing. That’s what I want from poetry. I don’t want it to make me think, although it can do that too. I want it to make me feel life coursing through me, as though I were breathing clear air at the top of a mountain, as though I were suddenly completely alive.

(Technically? In Taaffe it’s the progression of the vowels and consonants: spilt, missteps. The way she arranges her vowels and consonants, that’s the technical basis for the sensation the poem produces. In Cooney it’s the rhythm, which is both regular and irregular, so that you’re constantly juggling its irregularity, struggling to read it as regular. I’m not sure why, but that’s a strong source of poetic pleasure.)

I think it’s important, if you’re a writer, to point out what you think is good, what gives you pleasure. It’s a way of having and continuing a dialog about what is worthwhile in art. I started that with my last post about modernism, didn’t I? And I suspect that I’ll continue it. After all, I’m pretty opinionated about these things.

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2 Responses to One of Those Days

  1. rushmc says:

    Interesting. I rarely agree with others on my taste in poetry–it sounds like you have the same issue–but your phrase “as though my mind were dancing” captures almost perfectly what I look for and respond to most strongly.

    Of course, we may be doing different dances.

    All general statements are false, certainly, but in general I don’t want a poem to take me to a place: that’s what fiction’s for. And I definitely DO want it to make me think, so long as it activates my thinker via the sound-and-rhythm center of the brain. But there is certainly room for many different kinds of poems from many different kinds of poets (and they all have their readers). Narrative poetry just happens to be my second least favorite category, after confessional. There are always individual poems within any given category, however, that are great.

  2. I agree, I’m not a fan of confessional poetry and I don’t particularly like narrative poetry either. I have no problem with a poem making me think, but it’s got to give me pleasure as a poem first: as you say, in the sound-and-rhythm center of the brain. Just as, when I look at a piece of art, if it makes me think but doesn’t give me aesthetic pleasure, doesn’t please or at least engage my visual sense in some way, I have a hard time caring.

    We may certainly be doing different dances! Just as long as we’re both dancing . . .

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