Tuesday, March 07, 2006

CAN POETRY MATTER debate -- PART 3 1/2 of 4

Perhaps the most incisive response to the posts below is from Simon DeDeo, whose poetry review blog is, by the way, one of my favourites on the net:

This question used to bother me much more than it does today. From my vantage point -- publishing and reading mostly on the internet, and reading things that I find absolutely fantastic and in no way slick or derivative or clubby -- things really are quite fine.

And I grow to distrust people who worry about this a great deal (not you Brian, don't worry.) I mean, there is poetry, it is out there, 90% of everything is fake, fraudulent, made in bad faith. I can say this about science definitely and without reservation, so why not poetry? What do people like Gioia want? What would it mean for poetry to "matter" the way Gioia wants it to? (My guess would be that Gioia wants *his* poetry to matter to everyone, which it can't, because Gioia's work is crap.)

Does abstracted, theoretical science matter to anyone? Not really, except for the practicioners, the afficiandos, and the students. Similarly for poetry. I don't find science to be in a bad way, and neither do I find poetry so.

That's quite a head's up. Gioia's poetry is crap? From a writer I've called the Hazlitt of the net?

Frankly, I had only really read Unsaid, which struck me a profound admission with a resonant last line, besides showing an assured mastery of form. I'm sure, like me, most readers who have responded to Gioia's essays haven't bothered to actually read his poetry, or much of it at any rate -- call it laziness, or more charitably, symptomatic of our all-too-lazy human condition. Anyway, I decided to go to his site and give the poems he has there a good read.

Well -- guess what? Besides Unsaid, two poems have something: Sunday Night in Santa Rosa, and Insomnia, although the latter is has plenty dull notes (tho it could be taken as a confession of a certain all-too-human dullness). The rest of it is crap. Planting a Sequia, California Hills, Rough Country, the Next Poem, Summer Storm, are almost embarrassingly bad -- embarrassing, perhaps, because I took the man seriously. Country Wife starts to have something, but is also pretty lame. Money, a clever kind of joke poem, is also a Rorcharch poem -- what you say about it shows you who you are, at least in relation to its form & subject. I could see some people getting off on this, but me it's a mini-Frankenstein's monster, a stitching together of dead metaphors that produces a half-dead result. Litany is somewhat interesting at points, but the final summation dross. Interesting that he has this apologetic footnote to that poem -- what kind of concept of audience is that, and what kind of inibitions is he working against in himself? Anyway, in these selected poems, I see plenty of turgid sentimentality, heavy-handed use of structure, and dull language. And these are his selected.

Kind of undermines the thesis, eh? (Excuse me, we actually say eh up here...)

Also, just to be true to a new-found purpose, I decided to look at Simon's poems (to be found in his links list). Simon's work tends toward the cryptic and elusive, a kind of abstracted theoretical science in itself. But I frankly enjoyed it more than Gioia's (well, there's no comparison, really) -- there is an alacrity in his suggestive sparks and minimalist adventures with syntax, images that stay, and no cliche or sentimentality here, no sirree! Interesting that he also has a poem called Money. I'm not sure why this poem is called Money, but trying to figure out why has been a good mind-sharpener for me. My question for you, Simon is: could this poem be influenced by Gioia? In calling his work "crap", could there an oedipal complex at play here? ;-)

8 comments:

Pris said...

We had a debate on MySpace on an offshoot of this question lately. It started with my question re how many people read poetry besides other poets? Yes, an old question, but one worth looking at again from time to time with different voices taking part in the discussion. I enjoyed reading your take on this.

Simon said...

Hi ho Brian -- thanks for your many kind words, and for the implicit invitation to talk about my own work for a moment. :) <--- I have now lost all poetry street cred with that smiley.

When I write, I want to do something; I want to put something out that that resonates in precisely the opposite way to the way Gioia wishes to resonate. A Gioia poem I remember is one where he's driving a rental car and hears a song from his teenage years on the radio and the last line is he cries.

The problem with that is that it provides no company for the reader. There is nothing the reader can get inside: it is pure reportage, dressed up, but still -- to me such a poem makes me sad, because I want to feel the way Gioia does, but I can't, I want company, but the poem leaves me feeling very alone.

OK, so "Money". I began there because I wanted to hit a note with a reader to say, this is something with value, this is something we want. I wanted to evoke all of the kinds of neuroses we have about money. Some of them will vary from reader to reader, but in the end money is the source of security, of self-worth (as much as we try to avoid it), at the same time it is the atomizer, joint-checking accounts aside.

If I wanted a longer title, it might be "You feel very lost and alone and beset on all sides". But "money" is richer (ha) than that, even.

And I wanted that to work in counterpoint to the poem itself, where I wanted to bring the reader to a point of joy, to share a moment that in many ways I felt to be an antithesis of "money".

I wanted to people the poem, I wanted to draw in a company for the reader, so that as they moved further away from the title they moved further away from the kinds of things that title brought them. You can think of it maybe as introducing a discordant note that fades away as the passage progresses.

Perhaps in a way it is a way to taint the poem, to avoid sentimentality, to give it a kind of heft. It's a way of saying, OK, I'm going to write this pastoral and yet put it next to dirty cash.

Meanwhile, the problem I find with Gioia is that all of the danger is sucked out of the poems and you're left with something that relies upon its vague resemblence to Frost to be called poetry. This is all mean, I don't feel angry at Gioia; I just don't think he's writing something worthwhile. I wrote a negative review of two poets recently because I felt rather the opposite, that they wrote a lot of worthwhile things, but not this time.

Anyway, some thoughts for you on that!

Yours,

Simon

Brian Campbell said...

Actually, Simon, I sensed that you were using the title as a counterpoint to the content of the poem, also to shed light on elements therein (i.e. the New Americans) -- always a more creative way to title a work than simply choosing an obvious word or line.

Your response to Gioia's work is precisely mine to most pop songs, i.e. Celine Dion. I feel I'm *supposed* to feel moved when I'm not, and this makes me feel very alone. It's all a question of what Ciardi calls the sympathetic contract, which is, of course, highly relative.

A. D. said...

what i take to be one of cardenal's "can poetry matter?" poems:

Epitafio para Joaquín Pasos

Brian Campbell said...

Thanks AD. Only today I saw past the questionmarks and felt the depths of that poem. (Como el poema es sobre el lenguage y la comunicacion, es un poco ironico no que haya estos errores tipigraficos, no? Even here I can't put the foreign accents & characters where I want them... )

A. D. said...

well shoot, here (i hope this shows up correctly):

Aquí pasaba a pie por estas calles,
sin empleo ni puesto y sin un peso.
Sólo poetas, putas y picados
conocieron sus versos.

Nunca estuvo en el extranjero.
Estuvo preso.
Ahora está muerto.
No tiene ningún monumento...

Pero
recordadle cuando tengáis puentes de concreto,
grandes turbinas, tractores, plateados graneros,
buenos gobiernos.

Porque él purificó en sus poemas el lenguaje de su pueblo,
en el que un día se escribirán los tratados de comercio,
la Constitución, las cartas de amor,
y los decretos.

A. D. said...

for accents, by the way, you can just code things out:

á = á
í = í
ó = ó
À = À
ñ = ñ
ç = ç

more here

Brian Campbell said...

Thanks again, pal. Always good with the protocol.