Dec. 24th, 2011

sheenaghpugh: (Vogon poetry appreciation chair)
There's an article by Marjorie Perloff in the current PN Review (vol 38 no 3) which it's taken me a week to get around to reading, purely because the title, "Towards a Conceptual Lyric: From Content to Context" was so off-puttingly reminiscent of the most boring type of academic dissertation. But as often happens, it concealed a riveting and thought-provoking article, on what a lot of people nowadays think poetry is, why they're wrong, and why this misconception leads to such truly awful poetry.

The trigger was a workshop for high school poets, held at the White House under the auspices of Michelle Obama and attended by four practising poets, of whom more anon. The introductory remarks, by Mrs Obama and others, stressed the importance of poetry as a teenage escape from real life – "whenever I didn't want to deal with the nonsense of the neighbourhood I would write and write" – and preparation for more important, real-life, adult activities –"it was my writing that prepared me for what I've had to do in my life as an adult". Despite the presence of published poets, it isn't seen as a career in itself; it isn't even for itself. What it is for is self-expression; Rita Dove tells the group "Only you can tell your own story". Some of the students then get to read their own poems. Not surprisingly, given these criteria, they are truly dire. No doubt they were good therapy, and useful as such, but as poems they are quite unredeemed by any sense of rhythm, structure or even feeling for words (witness the one which uses "exceeded" for "succeeded"). All they do have going for them are originality and authenticity, which are clearly seen as cardinal virtues when trying to write a poem.
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December 2011

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