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Thursday, August 5, 2010

In Praise of Old White Guys

Theodore Roethke
Wallace Stevens
William Butler Yeats

And yet . . . I do not mean to discount. And yet . . . how many given box seats at the Bo-Sox/Yankees World Series would trade them for a pair of nosebleed bleacher-seats?

And yet . . . the list is long and the debt I owe immeasurable:

William Shakespeare (never mind he was most likely a woman)

I mean, listen to this stuff!! "But I hung on like death. Such waltzing was not easy." (Roethke) O how about "One must have a mind of winter" (Stevens). A MIND of winter. Whoa. Or how about Herbert's

You must sit down," says Love, "and taste my meat."
So I did sit and eat.

This is all such good action. Memorize these poems and you will have the rhythms of poetry embedded into your brain. You won't be able to pick up a pen and write bad poetry. Okay, so maybe you will, but you will at least get that poetry is music, that emotion is motion, the words on the page not only making sense to your brain but, through your ears, to your beating heart.

Don't diss these guys cuz they were white and privileged! They rock it, rock it, rock it!


David Graham said...

Not to mention young guys of all colors, who also rock the house just fine!

Polarizing dismissals are annoying and stupid wherever they come from and whoever they're aimed at, naturally. (I say that as a boring old white guy enrolled at birth in The School of Quietude. But mad as the mist & snow once you get to know me. . . .)

All the above's obvious, seems to me, but anyone reading around in blogland will be annnoyed and stupefied on a regular basis. . . .

I would insistt that we still need to remind ourselves of the history, even if preaching to the converted. I have a LOT of female poet friends who tell a similar story, of being riveted, galvanized, astonished, & inspired by discovering, like a big open secret, the amazing work of Moore, H.D., Millay, Stein, Loy, et al., not to mention the great wave of poets of the Kizer/Levertov/Sexton/Rich generation who brought something very new & exciting to the table in the 1960s especially.

Let a million flowers bloom.

Martha Silano said...

Hi David,

Thanks for your refreshing reminders-esp about the "young white guys of all colors." What's been so exciting for me these last years is the seeking out and attraction to strong and original voices in poetry, not books by poets of a certain gender or background. There's so much good poetry out there, but you have to go to the smaller presses to find it. The stuff you will find in B&N isn't going to expand your thinking about what a poem is, but go to presses like BOA, Ugly Duckling, Waywiser, Fence, and the like, and you will find all sorts of cool stuff. This, to me, is one of the greatest results of pluralism.

Jan Priddy, Oregon said...

I'm frustrated by author's works treated as perfect rather than human and a product of their times, prejudices, and experiences, and are actually offended if flaws are mentioned. (the new criticism)

For example, Maclean's A River Runs Through It is unapologetically racist (American Indians) and sexist (the man had serious whore/madonna issues) but still, some of the writing is just so beautiful, the story so compelling, and the regret so profound, that it's worth reading anyway. Especially because I teach teenagers, I believe it's healthier to acknowledge these issues before moving on.

I once stepped into a classroom discussing this novella. The teacher had stepped out (I don't know where he'd gone). I asked and one girl volunteered that they had considered whether he was racist or sexist, but decided he wasn't. I said, "Really?" looked around the room, spotted an Indian kid I knew well and said, "What do you think?" and we had a discussion.

All authors have issues. I don't think we must forgive them all, but sometimes we have to in order to get to their story.

I continue to argue that there have always been great women artists, despite everything. And because some aspects of their life experiences are far closer to mine that, say William Golding's, it's natural that I would gravitate toward women authors, because I respect and value my own life experience. On the other hand, authors such as Chinua Achebe and Chaim Potok allow me to expend my understanding of the world and I value that too.

Sorry for being so prosy here. I know fiction better than poetry and I hope that the argument's principle works either way.

[For myself, I've never quite forgiven Ezra Pound.]

Kathleen said...

I always love the discussions here, Martha.

I was thinking of you today at the bookstore, where I handled a cookbook called How to Cook Forsoothly. I turned immediately to the recipe for Patina of Stinging Nettles. You remove the stems (no mention of the needles!) and cook up the leaves in oil, wine, and pepper. Once it's nice and hot, you crack 6 eggs over the mess and cook them!

Re: Ezra Pound. Gary Metras has a wonderful short poem called "The Contribution of Ezra Pound" that somehow gets at the ickiness and complexity...indirectly. It's in Poetry East #44: Origins: Poets on the Composition Process (out of print) and reprinted in Poetry East #47-48: They Say This.

Martha Silano said...

Hi Kathleen,

Your post made my day. You have a lovely website too, btw! The graphics are gorgeous, but the content is even better.

Martha Silano said...

Hi Kathleen,

Your post made my day. You have a lovely website too, btw! The graphics are gorgeous, but the content is even better.