Saturday, November 16, 2013

Changing poems

I've been reading the poems that the Writer's Almanac sends through daily since some time in 2009, and recently have increasingly found that the quality of them has become less poetic and less vital.  When I first started getting them, I used to keep them in a folder each day, for 'future reference.'  Well, yes, enough said about that.  And then I kept them in Evernote, but only if they appealed to me.  At least in Evernote there was more of a likelihood that I'd see them more than once.

Increasingly, they haven't appealed. I think firstly that the choices of poems now seem to lean more and more to the easy. Occasionally there's one with a bit of bite, but far too many of them are surface, descriptive, and fail to have something that says, Have at you!  Occasionally there's one from a poet whose name you recognise, and often those poems have more punch, but they're few and far between.

Furthermore the poems are often slack in construction (even though many of them have been published); there's little rhythm, little sense of internal rhyme, often little shape. I don't expect poems to rhyme, but I do expect them to have something for the ear to hear and enjoy.  I don't think they have to have a particular metre, but it does help if they've got rhythm.  Many of the recent ones have lacked this.  Shape is a matter of taste, perhaps, but it seems as though many of these poets have never read anything that came in stanzas or verses or thought that the way the poem was architectured made a point as well.

So yesterday I decided to unsubscribe from the Writer's Almanac (sorry, Garrison Keillor), and try something different. In fact, I wound up getting a daily tweet from Verse Daily, a site that looks a bit more amateurish than Writer's Almanac, but, if their poems are anything to go by, may have something better in their store.  I've been chewing over today's offering Self Portrait: Swimming in Monkeys, by Michael Teig on and off all morning. It's an odd poem, one that I presume is trying to pin down what goes to make up a personality by using all sorts of seemingly random metaphors. Some of them click (with me) some don' far. But the thing is I've enjoyed coming back to it and trying to get my teeth into it.  This hasn't happened much lately with the WA offerings.

I also signed up to get daily emails from The Poetry Foundation, a very professional-looking site that's long-established, and has a huge archive of poems. Their offerings have also been more mind-catching.  Today's piece, Flounder, by Natasha Tretheway, is a more conventionally laid-out poem, four lines to a verse, and is the 'conversation' between an old Negro lady and her grandchild/great-niece (?) about fishing - but much more, of course. It's an easy poem to pick up, and yet it has hidden depths, and a wonderful last verse. I like poems where the last lines suddenly switch things around, or take you off into a corner you didn't expect.  This one certainly does.

I've also just finished a review this morning of a book I began back in August: Poems of DevotionThe review will probably go online at some point.  The editor of the book is Luke Hankins, and he's done a wonderful job of bringing together poems that have a religious element in common, but are devotional in the sense of Hallmark cards or little pretty gift books kind of devotional. These poems are tough, gritty, bite you in the neck kind of poems - although there are also ones that lift you out of the earth and into the air. It's taken me a long time to do the reviewing because the poems needed reading and re-reading. And there's a lengthy introduction to the book as well. I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys good poetry.  It's a feast, though, watch out, there's quite a bit of pepper and curry and chilli in it.

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