Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Hobby Horse

In the thicket of bad poetry, we need a machete.  So writer Douglas Wilson heads up a very brief post which consists simply of the following: "We have to recover the older standards for writing poetry, and if we have the slightest inclination, we should encourage it as much as we can . . . The first stuff we write will probably not be very good, but we should laugh at it and keep going. We are labouring for the kingdom."   


This quote is taken from a book Wilson wrote called Beyond Stateliest Marble, which focuses on the poet, Anne Bradstreet, who lived in the 17th century, in Massachusetts.  Her first book of poetry was published (unbeknownst to her) by her brother-in-law - he gave it the rather embarrassing title of The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, by a Gentlewoman of those parts.  Ouch.  (You can see two lovely poems she wrote to her husband here.)


I assume she's the writer of the quote above, and lest you think what she's saying is rather out-of-date, check out my post on Nicholson Baker and his book, The Anthologist - and the poem I wrote attempting to rhyme, something that proved more difficult that you'd expect.  (Or at least it did on this particular occasion.)  Baker's book is all about a supposedly fictional character who thinks that rhyming in poetry (and therefore, form) is due for a revival.  He'd agree with the opening sentence of this particular post, in fact. 


Stephen Fry, whose book, The Ode Less Travelled, has been a favourite of mine in the last few months (and was back in 2007, it appears, according to some notes I've just found), is also an enthusiast for form in poetry - and rhyme.   Not for him the standard strollers of many poetry books these days, those writers who couldn't rhyme if they wanted to, and whose metre makes a man with a limp seem normal.  I don't have any problem with free verse, but I think that if it's so free it doesn't seem to be anything more than a paragraph cut up into lines, then it should just remain a paragraph.   Take, for example, Sun Gazers by Stephen Dobyns.  Dobyns can write poetry, there's no doubt, because there are several examples on the site this is part of, but this poem just rolls on without any sense of rhythm....to me.

Enough!  I'm back on my hobby horse again...(which may be appropriate given that last poet's name...)



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