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July 21, 2011


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My final English Comp 2 essay participated in the typical grumbling about the difficulties involved in accessing contemporary poetry. I made an argument that I am no longer certain is coherent, that poets had to be able to justify any obfuscatory techniques they used-had to make a kind of plain language check, and if they could say what they wanted more clearly that way, rework the technique or change what they were trying to say. This was based very strongly on a theory of poetry I don't think most poets would accept, that supposed that poems were mostly just containers for ideas.

A wonderful collection of statements about poetry. "That poem is pure poetry" - it makes one think! It would have to be a very excellent poem to be poetry in the sense that people still widely recognize. And even then, poetry as a mode of saying may be something that's past us. How acutely contemporary poets must feel about this situation!

In response to dwayne, the commenter above: I agree with you that that's a too harsh standard, but I do respect that notion of a plain-language test for poetry (and not just for poetry but for many things!). I think that the idea can be expressed differently; for me, a memorable poem or lyric usually gives the impression of a necessary difficulty (cognitive, philosophical, spiritual, psychological, emotional, whatever) having been conveyed with the utmost clarity (the highest degree of clarity that the mystery, for lack of a better term, allows for). Without this central "mystery," I tend to lose interest; and without this sense of clarity, I become suspicious.

"That must be poetry, because I didn't understand a word" - to me, this is a wholly natural affirmation of the idea of poetry. We all know what it is, and we know it when we see it!

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

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Ringfinger was nervous
Pinky terrified
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that Hand might succumb
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