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Tony Grist

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What About Poetry? [Aug. 21st, 2007|10:02 am]
Tony Grist

What about poetry? asks my friend goddlefrood

 Poetry is always with us but great poets are few and far between. Much of the 18th century was a great poet-free zone. There's Pope and after Pope no one of the first rank until the romantics. 

Was Gray a great poet? A minor poet who wrote one great poem, I think.

So the contemporary dearth of great poets doesn't necessarily mean that poetry is dead. 

To be a great poet you need  to get into the book of quotations,  to add something to the language,  to "purify the dialect of the tribe". The last British poet to achieve that was Larkin. The last American poet to do it was Ginsburg. 

There are those who say  the great poetry of our age is in our songs.  I'm not convinced.  Words for music are usually too loose to look well on the page. 

I adore Dylan. I think he's a great artist. I don't think he's a great poet.

Of course I may be overlooking someone. I've got to admit I don't read much contemporary poetry. Does anybody?

i used to be a reviewer. I gave it up because it was making me angry.

So many poems about what I did on my hols. So many poems about dying relatives.

The great poet of our age may not have been published yet, or not published prominently.  Blake, Dickinson, Hopkins all went unnoticed by their contemporaries. 

The first half of the 20th century was a great age for English language poetry- perhaps the greatest. How do you follow Yeats, Eliot, Auden et al?  It's as if everything that can be done has been done.  

There were over fifty years between the death of Pope and the publication of the Lyrical Ballads. That's how long it can take  a culture to recover from a golden age.

So, no, on reflection I don't think poetry is finished. A great poet will come along eventually. They always do.

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Comments:
[User Picture]From: goddlefrood
2007-08-21 11:01 am (UTC)
Thanks for writing this up, I feel honoured to get a mention. I quite liked some of Betjeman's poems, but am not fond of more recent poetry, not that I'm really an afficienado of poetry or pote-ry as my mother would say it.

Here's my one effort, composed when I was about 16, it's called The Alternative Lizzie Borden Story:

Lizzie Borden took a hatchet
and played with mum, who couldn't catch it.
Then she tried again with dad,
who, alas, was just as bad.

It's possibly not going to be that undiscovered masterpiece ;-)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-08-21 11:24 am (UTC)
Hey, it made me laugh.

Betjeman is good. I'm a fan. But basically he wrote two poems over and over again- the one that goes, "I really fancy sporty girls" and the one that goes, "I'm really afraid of dying".
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[User Picture]From: jubal51394
2007-08-21 02:55 pm (UTC)

Maya Angelou?

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise

I rise
I rise.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-08-21 03:04 pm (UTC)

Re: Maya Angelou?

That's a stirring poem. I don't think it's a great one. Maybe I'm wrong.
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[User Picture]From: jubal51394
2007-08-21 03:26 pm (UTC)

Re: Maya Angelou?

I think maybe you have to be a black, American woman to think it's great. Maybe?

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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-08-21 03:36 pm (UTC)

Re: Maya Angelou?

Maybe?

But if it were absolutely great wouldn't it cut across things like gender, color, nationality etc?

I think it's stirring. I think it's good. I just don't think it's great. Great poetry is very rare.
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[User Picture]From: beentothemoon
2007-08-21 03:16 pm (UTC)
Dickinson is great, if only because you can sing all her poems to the tune of "The Yellow Rose of Texas"

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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-08-21 03:24 pm (UTC)
I must try that some time.
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[User Picture]From: sovay
2007-08-21 04:21 pm (UTC)
Of course I may be overlooking someone. I've got to admit I don't read much contemporary poetry. Does anybody?

Seamus Heaney; I think he has changed the language. He is the only living poet whom I read regularly, outside of people within the speculative community.

Words for music are usually too loose to look well on the page.

There are some lyricists whose language I love. I'm still not sure about our great poetry being music, though.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-08-21 04:33 pm (UTC)
I've never been entirely convinced by Heaney.

But I did like Station Island.

My favourite living poet is Anne Carson.
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[User Picture]From: sovay
2007-08-21 04:38 pm (UTC)
I've never been entirely convinced by Heaney.

In what sense?

But I did like Station Island.

It's one of my favorites.

My favourite living poet is Anne Carson.

I think I have managed to miss her; although looking at her books, I think I should change that quickly.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-08-21 04:51 pm (UTC)
I don't get that "wow, this is amazing" vibe off him.

But Station Island I found moving and impressive and maybe I should try him again.
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From: algabal
2007-08-21 05:06 pm (UTC)
You are right to say that comparatively little great (as in unmistakably monumental) poetry was written in the 18th century. One can only see Gray, Cowper and Pope.

But that is not to say there isn't much of interest in the realm of minor and obscure English poets, many of whom deeply presaged the romantics. For example, James Beattie, Mark Akenside, Edward Young, Robert Blair, and especially Thomas Chatterton and Williams Collins, will reward any reader.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-08-21 06:16 pm (UTC)
I'm afraid I've never done more than glance at any of those guys, but, you're right, the 18th century isn't a poetic wasteland, it just doesn't contain any giants.
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[User Picture]From: oakmouse
2007-08-21 08:50 pm (UTC)
I'm curious what you think of Robin Skelton and R.S. Thomas.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-08-21 10:28 pm (UTC)
Robin Skelton is entirely new to me. I've just been doing a bit of research. Attractive, romantic poems. And he was a witch too? I feel I need to know more.

I've been aware of R.S. Thomas for years and must have read quite a lot of his work one way or another, but it's never really drawn me in. I find it very austere- chilly even.
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[User Picture]From: oakmouse
2007-08-21 11:18 pm (UTC)
Skelton is a trip. Look up his short stories while you're at it; they're worth a read. His poetry can be hard to find, but I lucked into a copy of his book "Shapes of Our Singing" and love it. The poems aren't all top-notch, but many of them are quite good.

R.S. Thomas is chilly, yes, and many of his poems don't touch me at all. Some even actively repel me. But some of them ... wow. I think "An Airy Tomb" is my overall favorite of his. He captures some of what I felt in the landscape of rural north Wales.
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