Four years and counting!
(Poem #1169) Poetry
I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle. Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in it after all, a place for the genuine. Hands that can grasp, eyes that can dilate, hair that can rise if it must, these things are important not because a high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because they are useful. When they become so derivative as to become unintelligible, the same thing may be said for all of us, that we do not admire what we cannot understand: the bat holding on upside down or in quest of something to eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless wolf under a tree, the immovable critic twitching his skin like a horse that feels a flea, the base- ball fan, the statistician-- nor is it valid to discriminate against "business documents and school-books"; all these phenomena are important. One must make a distinction however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the result is not poetry, nor till the poets among us can be "literalists of the imagination"--above insolence and triviality and can present for inspection, "imaginary gardens with real toads in them," shall we have it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand, the raw material of poetry in all its rawness and that which is on the other hand genuine, you are interested in poetry.
I was planning to run Dylan Thomas's "Notes on the Art of Poetry" as a fourth anniversary poem, but, although I agreed with everything it had to say, it didn't really *move* me. Moore's "Poetry", on the other hand, did, so here it is. So, what is it about the poem that I so liked? I'm not sure - maybe I just appreciate the exquisite poetry hiding under the matter-of-fact facade (to say nothing of the rigid form (see the commentary on Poem #1043 for a description of Moore's syllable counted verse) hidden under an illusion of free verse), or because I like the penetrating originality of phrases like 'imaginary gardens with real toads in them'. Oddly enough, I *agree* with Moore a lot less than I do with Thomas - in particular, "these things are important...because they are useful" made me twitch. Of course, that raises the question of how seriously to take the poem (I mean, how seriously *should* one take a poem titled 'poetry' and beginning "I too dislike it"?). I'm not really sure what Moore is trying to say, in the end - indeed, at times she appears to be treading a fine line between poetry and something perilously close to antipoetry. The case for an assumed voice is all the more compelling in that it looks like Moore is distinguishing not just between the genuine and the *artificial* (or more closely, between genuine poetry and poetry that is what I like to call capital-L Literature), but between the rough and the finished. If in "Poetry's" distaste for the 'high-sounding interpretation' it eschews artifice, it also seems to want craft to fall by the wayside - between the "raw material of poetry" and the "genuine", there seems very little room for the careful and precise shaping of words that - ironically - today's poem is an excellent example of. Contrast (our) Thomas's commentary on Poem #1043: Archibald MacLeish famously wrote: "A poem should not mean But be." I can think of no poet who so consistently fulfils MacLeish's dictum as Marianne Moore. Randall Jarrell talks of "her lack -- her wonderful lack -- of arbitrary intensity or violence, of sweep and overwhelmingness and size, of cant, of sociological significance". Her poems simply exist; they "cannot be suborned to any end but their own" . They are elegant and precise; carefully constructed and meticulously detailed; and always, always, wonderfully rewarding. and the paradox falls into clearer focus - today's poem seems to be all about Meaning, but when you step back and take a look at it, it just Is. And, as Thomas noted, few people do that better than Moore. martin p.s. The poems-from-the-movies theme will be back tomorrow - think of this as the intermission. Links: There's an extensive set of comments on the poem and its extensive revision history here: http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/m_r/moore/poetry.htm Two things I liked were the argument that Moore was distinguishing between 'poetry' and 'Poetry' (compare my earlier derogatory usage of Literature), and the following note: Another manifestation of the interrogation of authority in "Poetry" developed across Moore's revisions of it over the years. The poem was well known and well liked, in all its subversive playfulness. But its argument created problems for its poet. For if it was "genuine" on first publication, once it became well known, by its own lights it lost some of its genuineness. For later publications, Moore revised the poem substantially and managed in so doing to disperse some of the familiarity. Finally Moore cut the poem to three lines, and printed one of the longer versions in the endnotes. The short version reads: Poetry I, too, dislike it. Reading, it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in it, after all, a place for the genuine. - And for the discovery of today's poem, I'm indebted to the excellent collection of metapoems at http://www.tnellen.com/cybereng/poetry/index.html