defense from poetry
The desire to write a long poem or two is not obseqiousness to the judgment of people. On the contrary, I find that prolonged attention to a single subject has the same result that prolonged attention to a senora has, according to the authorities. All manner of favors drop from it. Only it requires a skill in the varying of the serenade that occasionally makes me feel like a Guatemalan when one particularly wants to feel like an Italian.
Wallace Stevens to Harriet Monroe, 1922
And some days you are backed into the maze and find yourself facing an essay so distasteful that your distaste becomes apparent in every sentence; it soaks the page like spilled ink and you tell yourself, this is where the mind goes to die
But it's kept running this long, I suppose it can't help but continue. I never claimed to understand poetry especially well, and the only things I can say about it are glib and obvious. I hope glib and obvious is good enough for this institution. Sure, I still get the whooshy feelings, which are all that has kept me from hating poetry in the face of this class, but you don't get graded on the whooshy feelings. Next week I am giving a presentation on a mediocre contemporary poet whose inclusion in the course I didn't understand until I tracked down a journal article by my professor about the contemporary poet. The professor explains that a few years ago he found himself at an impasse in teaching contemporary poetry because he didn't know anything about younger poets, but
I did know that my colleague X had a very bright son who was a poet, so I borrowed his book from her, found out he lived in Berkeley, taught the book, invited him to speak to my class, got none of the rock allusions over which he and the class bonded, and felt virtuous that I had made so noble a gesture to attach myself to the times.
So this poet is the professor's idea of "what all the kids are listening to." It seems so silly to be addressing this in a serious academic context because I knew a bunch of Hot Young PoetsI went to school with them for two years and watched them get drunk and have nervous breakdowns and fight over each other's wives and so on. God knows there are fine individuals among them, and fine poets too, but I haven't forgotten the pettiness and clubbiness. It's even worse than the world of fiction writers. The contemporary poets we've been given in this course seem to all be palsthey review each other's books, and so onand because of our professor's circumstantial introduction to this particular circle, we're now trying to treat them as the successors to Moore and Ashbery. None of this ought to surprise anyone, and I should get over it; but this is why I never wanted to be an exegete.