Tuesday, July 16, 2024

The Poetry Corner


By Norah Christianson

In 1999, UNESCO proclaimed March 21 as World Poetry Day. Every day is some kind of day. Potato Chip Day, Take Your Ex to the Cleaners Day, Biblioklept Day. But World Poetry Day was created by UNESCO for the altruistic reason of “supporting linguistic diversity through poetic expression.” Does supporting mean money? Money’s good. Money is supporting, especially for poets who are so often rather raggedy. But somehow I doubt it means money. The other reason, according to UNESCO, for World Poetry Day (or WoPoDay, as I like to call it) is “to increase the opportunity for endangered languages to be heard.” How? And do people who speak endangered languages write poetry? And if they do, and if they write them in their endangered, rare languages, how can we understand them? And to hear them, must we go to Ittoqqortoormiit (Greenland) or La Rinconada (Peru) or The Kerguelen Islands (a.k.a. The Desolation Islands – Southern Indian Ocean)?

But I digress before I even start. I picked Marianne Moore’s poem “Poetry” because of WoPoDay. “Poetry.” So fitting a title, yes? And you gotta love the first line: “I, too, dislike it….” We dislike it, Moore says, because there are things more important. But then she goes on to remind us that, actually, there is, in good poetry, important things, genuine things. Except, she then says, when the language is “derivative,” i.e., imitative and full of symbolism and fancy words so that poem is unintelligible. When the poem is unintelligible (like most poems in The New Yorker, for instance), we do not admire it.

Moore then makes a list of real things that can be written about—the bat, the baseball fan, the twinkly-skinned critic (a little jab at those creeps), and even business documents. (I challenge you to write one of those). These are real things, genuine things to write about. But, she warns, we must be aware that when these real things are “dragged into prominence” (I think she means “made too much of,” but I don’t know what that means either) by “half poets,” ( I think she means half-assed poets), the result is not poetry.

Until the “autocrats “ (I take this word to mean the dictators of the rules for poetry) can be “literalists of the imagination” (an oxymoron if there ever was one), and write about toads (the literal) in imaginary gardens (the imaginative), we won’t have real poetry. So we must demand, in defiance of “their” (the autocrats’) opinion, that poetry be raw and genuine. The “I, too…” of the very first line, allies her with us. Later, she speaks of “we”. But in her conclusion, she wants “you” (us) to demand good poetry. If you/we are up to the demanding job of demanding, then “you are interested in poetry.”

I too, am exhausted. I have to admit that this poem, at times, is opaque to me. Sometimes incoherent (to me.) It’s interesting that Marianne Moore is critical of poetry that is unintelligible, yet she herself certainly can be. And of whom, exactly, are we to demand that poetry be raw and genuine and understandable? I guess a letter to The New Yorker could be the whom. (sic)

Copied straight from Wikipedia: Marianne Moore (November 15, 1887 – February 5, 1972) was an American modernist poet, critic, translator, and editor. Her poetry is noted for its formal innovation, precise diction, irony, and wit. She was nominated for the 1968 Nobel Prize in Literature.

*NOTE: This column was written by an embittered poet who has been rejected by The New Yorker 11 times.


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