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Poetry Readings

Attention Conservation Notice (should the post title not suffice): meanderings not along any set line

So, I've been reading proportionately more poetry this year, not so much by intent or design, more a matter of getting an itchy understanding up to scratch. Which I guess is one reason why poets write, especially given the propensity for poems to be about poetry, as if it's a set problem. Not that I have any pretenses towards styling myself a poet, though I have perpetrated poetry, and verse. No, my writing is at least mostly in the service of my reading, and getting poetic is just part of getting poetics.

I've long interspersed poetry into my literary reading, if haphazardly, the bulk of it pre-WWII, also predominantly British or American when not premodern, and little below the rank of major, but filling in more diversely in recent years, at least as regards the first two categories; with so much territory to cover in order to get grounded, who has time for minor topological features? This year I took on more of the collected-selected variety (Delmore Schwartz, Marianne Moore, Tomas Tranströmer [via Robin Fulton], Clive James, Wislawa Szymborska [Stanislaw Baranczak & Clare Cavanagh], Francis Picabia [Marc Lowenthal], e.e.cummings, Li Po [J.P. Seaton], Vladimir Nabokov, Nichita Stanescu [Sean Cotter], James Merrill, Philip Larkin, Heinrich Heine [Louis Untermeyer], Samuel Beckett, and in progress, Czeslaw Milosz [various, adjudicated by himself]). These are invariably ordered chronologically (as I just did vis-a-vis my reading), so one follows the development of the poet's idiolect while in the process of learning it for oneself. (Having said before that I try to reread the first time through, again who has time, the Heine was an exception, but from pre-adolescence, part of my Heritage Press intro to poetry that also featured Longfellow, Whittier, Poe. [Well, Poe and Nabokov (and so Pope) and Shakespeare also exceptional, but that's different.] But I got sidetracked waybackthen by the Little Brown Ogden Nash.)

(But I digress. So what else is new?)

For all this, I'm still far from consolidating my understanding, far from having a handle on this art as on others (not just Arts as such, but all such domains of human endeavor, philosophical, mathematical, just f'rinstance). Now, I've always pretty much been a strict interdisciplinarian, even though becoming expert in some matters, but the context supplied by such boundaries seems singularly lacking in poetry in all its particularity. One distinguishing feature of literature (eg from genre, though there is lit-genre writing, ornamented rather than intrinsic) is that it creates its own context; poetry takes it another step, even beyond the idiolectical use of language, in creating its own aesthetic (genre being verse), form and function becoming inseparable in execution. Even determining any given aesthetic is quixotic (eg Arnold, Yeats), moreso given its flux (eg Auden), so trying to place some meta-aesthetic above seems more so still. Not that there isn't something to be gained in trying. But, more than in other arts, it always leads back to the particularity of the poet and of the poem, and for that matter of the reader. (And I think myself a fairly particular reader.)

Differences in degree, not in kind? Sure, I'll grant that much. But nothing else so intensifies, so heightens the contradictions. No overarching theory suffices, nor combinations thereof. Attempts to establish categories are categorically unsound (well, maybe historical, but History shares this dynamic–well, to a degree: in poetry every word count–but then there's also the Great Man perspective) (oh and I should mention A.C.Graham's renderings of Poems of the Late T'ang; historical anthologies at least giving temper of time and place if not so much the individual writers).

All of which helps make poetry the most democratic of the arts. Which of course means a greater number aspiring to high office (ntm placeholders' legacy issues, and party affiliations & broadsides) (did I mention astroflarfing?) as all the while turnout (readership) diminishes. After all, the personal is poetical ...

(Other 2012 poetry readings: relatively recent by W.S. Merwin, Ruth Patel, Tadeusz Rozewicz [via Bill Johnston], and Jacques Roubaud [Keith and Rosmarie Waldrop].)(oops, Ashbery's Self-Portrait too ...)



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