reading poems

I love this: No matter how you would describe the voice that a poem carries, what the poem wants is a readership through time attuned to its voice—not a prize, if they are not the same and they are not.

This from Marc Gaba‘s review of the English poetry sections of UP’s Likhaan Book of Fiction and Poetry series. I own two volumes: 1998, poetry edited by J. Neil Garcia; and the 2001 volume, poetry edited by Gemino Abad.

Sadly, I’ll have to agree with Mr. Gaba here:

To many poets whose works appear frequently in the series, poetry seems be a matter of sounding ‘poetic’: inflated, sort-of-heightened language that sounds understandable, but if read closely (or if simply read) either makes no sense, or obscures the small idea that is meant. Often, in effect, sentences descriptive in gesture do not describe anything, images are not achieved, verbs don’t do their jobs, diction is just wrong…—it is as though language in poetry is meant to be a kind of noise that ‘sounds beautiful.’ Metaphors proliferate with no consciousness tracking them, mainly because they derive from unintentional errors in diction. The writers of these poems seem unaware of how their language mangles material in the name of a misguided sense of what is poetic.

He gives several examples, and closes with:

…the intention—the wish—is that the poems we write be read not as extensions of people with names big or small, nor as cultural ornaments that one need not consider seriously, but as a written thing that is best read without—in fact may be read only without—fear, without that weird readiness to be intimidated, a readiness which tends to submit too easily to inherited, ‘expert’ judgement and interpretation at the expense of a self vivified by its honest response.

Amen. :)

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I adore that phrase – inherited judgment. Which makes me think of the word canon. Which makes me think of those instances in CW classes when you want to raise a contrary criticism about a piece, but you can’t because GUSH THEY’RE PILLARS OF POETRY AND FICTION GUSH.

* * *

There’s a certain “pillar of poetry” whose poems I just don’t enjoy. I try to, but I can’t. I once shared this with a friend who finished CW (I majored in Journ and just took electives), waiting for the backlash. It didn’t come. She looked at me and said: “Yeah, I don’t like him/her either.” Then we laughed. It was a nervous, exhilarated laughter, as though we had just shoplifted and had gotten away scot-free.

* * *

Just a thought, though: I think Mr. Gaba should have mentioned that a poem of his was included in the 1998 Likhaan.

* * *

I got the link to his review from Conchitina Cruz’s blog. Cruz’s first poetry collection, Dark Hours, was a defining moment for me as an avid reader and occasional writer of poetry. Here are poems that mean something to me, I thought. Here are poems that move me. Her second book, elsewhere held and lingered, is also excellent.

* * *

Marc Gaba was my instructor in my first and only poetry class, Imagery. I thought he was great, his class another defining moment. As for his poems, I’ve read only a handful, but this is my favorite:

Study of Linearity

He tasted his tear, tiny orchestra, it fled
itself down his face to the tongue which could not
hold that rapid taste, the lives that quote each other
streamed below his placard, all day and later
the sun pulled out like an ending, it pointed
away from its answers, at us whom it missed,
word by word, the holes in the net we make.

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