Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Late Night Bits on Poetry

I've just finished reading Paul Muldoon's Moy Sand and Gravel (2002), which won the Pulitzer Prize, and I have to say that, mostly, I just don't get it.

Which brings me to a larger question that's always swirling in my mind when I think of verse: How does one decide what good poetry is? I mean, it's pretty easy to know what bad poetry is. But good poetry? It seems the best teachers -- two I've studied with who have an incredible gauge for this are R.T. Smith and Alison Hawthorne Deming -- have an innate sense for good poems, as well as when a poem is "finished," though there's the oft-quoted line that a poem is never finished but abandoned.

This is Muldoon's tenth book (I imagine he's published more in the last six years, too), and I recall his Paul McCartney-like mug gracing a relatively recent Poets & Writers magazine cover. And with that Pulitzer thing; yeah, pretty respected poet. But with the exception of the wonderful longish poem "As," the others left me scratching my head. Plenty were witty, and I suppose in as surprising and creative a way as the poems by E.E. Cummings, Langston Hughes, or Billy Collins. But none were as compelling (or charming) as the poems by those three.

Speaking of Collins, I've just started re-reading some of his books, because not only do I really enjoy his work (dare I say it? yes!), but they provide great inspiration for my own writing. And that's why all of this is on my mind: I'm writing poetry again, working toward a second manuscript, and am making some progress.

Oh yeah, back to Collins. Any feedback on his new book, Ballistics, which has the cliched bullet through a playing card image on the cover? I was disappointed in The Trouble with Poetry, but I suppose compared to books like Nine Horses and Picnic, Lightning, it's hard not to be.

So I'm reading a lot to write more, and therefore thinking about poetry quite a bit more. And having good conversations with Alison Deming and a few others about poetry, as well. Now, apparently, if I only had a better sense, or perhaps more rightly said: a broader sense of good poetry.

I don't feel like that's an issue with the work I accept for Terrain.org; in fact, I'm delighted by that though there's a sizable slush pile to pick through for the gems (how's that for a mixed metaphor?). But in reading the wide recommendations of others -- and not being able to (or being particularly interested in) discussing the various "schools" of poetry -- I sometimes feel inferior in this nebulous genre of ours.

But hell, that isn't going to stop me!

And finally, couple Simmons poetry notes:
  • I'm reading my series of three "Letter from Charles Darwin to His Sister, Susan" poems at the UA's 200th birth anniversary of Charles Darwin celebration on February 12th, which also happens to be my birthday. That's some time from 3-4 p.m. at the Student Union.
  • On February 18th, I'm reading (for about 20 minutes) as part of the Casa Libre Edge Reading Series. I'm the only poet that evening, the rest of the evening is dedicated to the "Invisible City" performance project, which sounds very exciting. Begins at 7:30 p.m. Details on both here.

1 comment:

Lauren said...

omg i constantly feel inferior when it comes to poetry. and that is how i felt for most of my first year of MFA-land and probably my second year too. but that's also what turned me into a lyric poet and made me less patient with poems that don't pay attention to language at all. which is my main complaint with Collins, who I used to adore and worship but who now, sadly, leaves me uninspired. I wish he did more poems like "Japan," poems that have lyricism and sensory detail, and aren't always about the talky amusing introduction garnished with an inspirational epiphany.
but to answer your question, i mostly have no idea how to tell if poetry is bad or good, and surrounded by the other people in my MFA genre, i'm usually wrong. and i remain jealous that you get to have conversations with AHD. :)