Why do we drive on parkways and park on driveways?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Waxing poetic on a Wednesday

Dustbury calls my attention to this article, which bemoans the "sidelining" of poetry. One of Second Terrace's paragraphs called to me: 

          "This is distressing, because – I think – poetry is the threading of meaning, and thus a little bit of poetry is necessary to the work of belief. And if you think that there is no work to belief, then you will never be able to read a poem."

All of this gives me an excuse to post one of my favorite poems, by Marianne Moore. It pretty much sums up my feelings on poetry, which has been eulogized at least once per generation. I particularly like the line about "imaginary gardens with real toads in them," because poetry is the imaginary garden, and the toads are the critics and poets who take themselves entirely  too seriously.


I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond
      all this fiddle.
   Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one
      discovers in
   it after all, a place for the genuine.
      Hands that can grasp, eyes
      that can dilate, hair that can rise
         if it must, these things are important not because a

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because
      they are
   useful. When they become so derivative as to become
   the same thing may be said for all of us, that we
      do not admire what
      we cannot understand: the bat
         holding on upside down or in quest of something to 

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless
      wolf under
   a tree, the immovable critic twitching his skin like a horse
      that feels a flea, the base-
   ball fan, the statistician--
      nor is it valid
         to discriminate against "business documents and

school-books"; all these phenomena are important. One must make
      a distinction
   however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the
      result is not poetry,
   nor till the poets among us can be
     "literalists of
      the imagination"--above
         insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, "imaginary gardens with real toads in them,"
      shall we have
   it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand,
   the raw material of poetry in
      all its rawness and
      that which is on the other hand
         genuine, you are interested in poetry.


  1. Well. There is poetry, and there is, um, "poetry." Or what's sometimes referred to as "poetries."

    I've lately enjoyed a little pissing match between James Campbell ("J.C."), who writes the NB column for The TLS, and a group known loosely as the "Infinite Difference" poets, published by Cambridge Literary Review.

    The bit that started it all is helpfully reproduced here; I agree with Campbell that it's difficult to derive meaning from lines like this (by Marianne Morris):

    not knowing anything or her name. Rich
    sussuration of words at soil's thumby reach
    as he gluey gibbers, love is here ...

    The words are English, but she's not reaching me. Perhaps I'm just too gendered to get it. As a professor of English, can you help me out here?

  2. I never got poetry even though I love to read. Occasaional a line or two might be nice but whole poems were boring and many seemed out-there/pretentious. My Grandmother moved to FL last month, and in cleaning out her books she gave me some Ogden Nash, now I'm hooked :)


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