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« "For Anne Gregory" [by William Butler Yeats] | Main | In Your Own Voice: Performing Poetry (by David Yezzi) »

January 15, 2009


Fascinating post, and one does feel you could extend it into an essay (or even a small book) as discussion of bad individual lines, and how context may excuse them or not, leads inevitably to larger questions of judgment and taste. Kudos.

One line that made me fall about laughing when I read it at age 13 or so was also Shelley: "Hail to thee, blithe spirit! Bird thou never wert..." I still think it is unfortunate.

Great idea for a little essay! Marvellous.

This really got me thinking - and I've decided that I don't think I'd change any lines, even if given the chance. There is something really admirable in a poet trying -- and failing. Even the bad lines of these poets are worth reading, if only to admire the chance taken -- kind of like watching Marlon Brando in "Guys and Dolls." The easiest thing to do is play it safe, and the worst thing for a poet. And if you take chances, you're going to fall on your face at least once in a while. Let the failed lines stand. They keep the poem honest.

Wow. Great post. I definitely want to read a book version of it. I'm all for the bad lines of these poets as it seems a lot of the most ambitious poets write a lot of the worst lines, whereas, with language poets and others, lines are neither bad or good.

Poems with bad lines (most of them edited out) alongside phenomenal ones are like bipolar people, with the extreme highs and lows. As a reader, I want to experience those highs. And of course the poem itself doesn't have to deal with the consequences of mental illness.

I'm with you Laura. And it's great for the rest of us to know that even our most revered poets have their "failings." But as a critic once said of the great pianist Artur Rubenstein, "he makes mistakes, but oh such mistakes!" Does the bad line make the whole poem better, I wonder?

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That Ship Has Sailed
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"Lively and affectionate" Publishers Weekly


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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