Perhaps the answer is nothing.
As evidenced by her two new poems in this month's issue of Poetry, "Sestina: Like" and "The Rosehead Nail," Stallings maintains my claim that she is the best American poet since Sylvia Plath. Her poems seem specifically calculated to make me swoon.
By "me" I mean anyone with a serious education (traditional or autodidact) in the classics, poetry, and poetics. If you're the kind of person who owns an OED and for whom "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" holds a dear place in your heart, you're going to love A.E. Stallings' poetry (if you don't already).
And yet I wonder.
Look at the vocabulary of both poems. "Sestina" uses "desuetude" and "Nail" "quincunx." While I love the challenge of both finding and providing unfamiliar words (especially ones that sound so lovely: see "indehiscent" in her poem "Olives") I know from experience both reading and teaching that vocabulary can be a huge turn-off for some folks.
And that's sort of the crux of the question. In a world with a triple division of poetry: popular, traditional, and obfuscatory, I would like to know what the uninitate thinks of the average Stallings poem. Is she merely a "poet's poet"? Worse, is she merely this "poet's poet"? Most of me doesn't think so, though in reading contemporary poetry with my students I've gotten a lot more traction with the poems of Jill Alexander Essbaum or Joshua Mehigan or Brian McGackin than I have with Stallings' poems.
Maybe it's not her it's me?
Perhaps I see Stallings' poems and see exemplars for what I have tried to write. Lord knows reading her "Three Poems to Psyche" so soon after the publication of With Rough Gods was incredibly unsettling. But I don't think I'm unrealistic about the potential audience for poetry. That is, I know big words scare people. Someone once told me that I was writing poetry for the intellectual crowd as well. Somehow I didn't see this (like seriously, my first book is about Greek Mythology--who ELSE was I writing for?) and was taken a bit aback.
Artists always need to balance their desire to communicate with the ability of the audience to comprehend. While I agree with both Dante and Eliot that the experience trumps the understanding, the possibility of comprehension must exist. It clearly does in Stallings' work--so is there a problem?
Maybe it's everyone else?
I am unsettled still when I read her work and am concerned about its reach to a broader audience. As I count her among my favorite poets and among our best poets, that concern bleeds into a more general concern for poetry.
Why is it that difficulty in poetry should stop an audience cold when this is not the case for other forms of art? Folks loved Inception. LOVED IT. Lost, too. I hear both students and adults debate the complexity of this song, that lyric--the complexity of some puzzling video game.
Why have they lost the ability to appreciate such puzzles in poetry?
There are plenty of answers but I think I am more interested in this question: what do we as poets do if we acknowledge this disparity?
Is it a compromise of art to acknowledge and adjust your work to accommodate the limitations of your broader audience or do you accept that your art--by its nature--limits its own audience?
A.E. Stallings work thus far gives her a solid claim to be the best poet of our age. But will she be our age's favorite poet? What value is there in either honorific? In any honorific? Laurels are just leaves, after all.
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Perhaps the answer is nothing.
Thursday, April 25, 2013
So twitter showed me a new article at Harriet today:
Rhyme by Anthony Madrid
In it, Mr. Madrid makes the claim that non-visual rhymes (tough and fluff) are better than visual rhymes (blow and show) because they create cognitive dissonance.
That would be nice if it weren't untrue (indeed, maybe they do on a second, third, fifteenth reading--but that's not what he's getting at in his article).
We "hear" what we read. It's one of the reasons poetry has to "sound good" even if it's "closet verse."
But asking the average poetry scholar to know about cognitive science appears to be a losing battle. I wish it weren't so.
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
So Anis Shivani has a HuffPo article on the 15 Most Overrated American Writers.
On the one hand, we probably spend too much time tearing folks down. On the other hand, this is funny stuff--and while I like one poem from almost every poet he mentions, that's the only poem of theirs I like.
On the other-other hand, I wonder if I should start throwing up articles on Huff and see who reposts them.
Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Everyone! Come to The Best Reading (and after-party) Ever at AWP13!
Thanks to all who helped with the Kickstarter, this reading will be recorded!
The film is slated for release in May.
Readers will feature:
To get your invite and the location, email AWPsBestReading AT gmail!
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Monday, February 25, 2013
So after someone telling me that Homer and Tennyson didn't write poetry I'm wondering what it is I do then?
Not that I'm Homer and Tennyson-class--but you get the idea. Poetry has become something either indefinable or unimportant or both.
Perhaps that's why this blog (and the magazine it came from) is called "Strong Verse" not "Strong Poetry." I'm interested in the craft of writing verse, not slapping a silly "it's automatically art" label on some words.
More to it though, what's the delivery system of poetry?
Back when poetry was first created in those good old prehistorical times folks didn't read nor write--so they had to listen to a poet chant. Maybe they did it around a fire, maybe in what would become an amphitheater.
At any rate is was the voice that mattered. Folks could only see large gestures--so there could and likely would have been some motion--but an emphasis on that was what drove us to drama (the first split from poetry?).
Then along came the historical world. Folks could read--well, some of them--but performance was still king (at least if your audience was more than the king who could read anyway). But poets, who now could rely on the exobrain of paper for memorization, could devote more time to versecraft. Hence the rigor of national poetic forms.
Then came printing and the rise of literacy.
Here you have the ability of verse to reach the person interested in poetry before the poet. This creates a few problems, notably the difficulty of transmitting inflection and performance. The Beatles could create "concerts" with their Pepper-and-on albums but that's because they could record. Printed words don't carry the same weight.
Which speaking of, the rise of printing mirrored the rise of musical notation which could carry the same weight as performance. Unfortunately no such easy guide was given to the written word. Readers had to rely on a knowledge of rhyme and meter to eke out how a poem should be read (unless they were lucky enough to catch the poet--and how often did that happen? Legit question, btw).
Also now the music of poetry had to compete with the standardized (and far more performed) music of music. And drama and and and.
Then came sound recording and broadcast capabilities. While wax recordings of Tennyson exist, what is clear in them is that there's no notion of performance. He intones and warbles "Haalf a leeeague, haalf a leeague" in a rhythm familiar to many who attend contemporary poetry readings. Even the reportedly gorgeous and vivacious Edna St. Vincent Millay reads her poetry as if she's at a funeral.
Why do we think people want to listen to this?
Who has effectively recorded poetry (without music)? Garrison Keillor?
Is it really that hard or is it simply unlearned?
At any rate it hardly matters because TV (and more importantly internet distribution of video).
But where are the poets of TV? Of film?
Why did we stop in the 19th century and leave well enough alone? Did all of the folks who would have been our greatest poets just become song- and screenwriters?
Aural storytelling is powerful. Visual storytelling is powerful. Why not have some animated or even live-action recreations of poems?
We must rethink our delivery methods. Print is wonderful and powerful but we can't leave performance poetry to the performance poets and visual poetry to the avant garde.
What do you want to see as a poem?
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
What does the world of writing look like when you can pick up your poem and pass it around?
Developments like this will rend the veil between purely visual and purely linguistic art (it's difficult at this point to call such theoretical work "aural" though one would assume the proper areas of the brain will still be activated).
Who will be the first visual poet to make art from this?