Friday, April 20, 2012

deleted poetics



The New Yorker recently wrote a blog post asking its readers the question "What word would you eliminate from the English language?" I began writing down an alphabet of words I would like to do away with and realized that there is a right time for any word. However, there are plenty poetic themes, words, and habits of which I am deeply distrustful.

A few words that are only used in poetry and used with alarming frequency - flay, Caravaggio, splay, engender, heft, haft, cigarette, filet.

Categories that I distrust - mythology, gardening, cooking, mechanics, painting. It's not that these can't be good topics, its that a poets narrative of cooking and gardening can create a Better Homes & Gardens effect, awing the reader with lifestyle and borrowing technical terms that show a sophisticate knowledge.

I dislike poems that mention other authors. Leaning on the ethos of Mandelstam, Rilke, Whitman, or any other dead poet cheapens the content of the piece at hand. Interacting with other poets can be done well of course - I love "A Supermarket in California" - but I don't trust casual mention. I also look askance at poets who dedicate poems to famous poets they know. I've read books where a half-dozen poems were dedicated to great contemporary poems. This seems a ploy to impress readers with how cool and well connected the author is.

End capitalization at the beginning of lines!

I have written poems about natural and human disasters but don't buy in to the idea often poetry of witness. Poetry must be witness but to private language not to wars and rumors of wars unless the muse moves. Poetry of witness can be wonderful but often poetry on subjects like the civil rights movement, tsunamis, and earthquakes relies on pathos not poetics.

No to concrete poetry.

Literal translations are fine but might not be poetry. Spirit is the key of translation, so it requires liberty and poetry.

Politics should be taken head on in poetry. That said, I do not like the bashing of conservatives (I know it's easy), religious groups, America, and people with whom a poet does not agree. This is not a political statement. Poetry is about complexity, humanity, connection, and language. Dehumanizing a person for voting republican or equating a political stance with a lack of intelligence is a gross oversimplification. It is unpoetic. I have seen a very low level of discourse from some very famous poets on politics in this election year and am saddened by it.

Don't not write. Do all the things above before you give up on a poem - editing bad poems is the way good poems are written.

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