Friday, January 18, 2013
A Test of Poetry
Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.
I took this photograph yesterday morning, but did not write anything before I left for work. I sat with the book for a moment, then opened and began reading Robert Creeley's introduction. I had an experience I've often had since he died, in which I start reading his words and then begin to hear his voice. The syntax of his written sentences hewed so closely to the way he spoke in person that reading it now is a bit uncanny. I caught myself listening to his voice in my head and then went back and started reading again to see if I was just making this up. I had the same experience all over again. The sentences sound just like the man.
I remember having a similar experience once when he was alive. I met him for lunch in a diner in Buffalo. It was around the time that Life and Death came out. My mother had recently moved to Florida and I had visited her for the first time that winter. I told him my impressions of Florida and then he started talking about people on golf carts and those little scooters that constitute a fourth kind of traffic in Florida after cars, bikes and pedestrians. Mostly I remember this contempt he expressed for the whole idea of retirement and moving to Florida to stop working, as if not working were actually preferable to work.
And then I had that same uncanny feeling, only in reverse. Here I was, listening to the great poet speak and I suddenly felt like I was inside one of his poems. His speech sounded exactly like his writing. That night I went home and read the poem Histoire de Florida, which contains descriptions of people on scooters and the poet's contempt for retirement (and death, too). The uncanniness came not from the repetition of the stories but the repetition of the rhythms and syntax of his speech. He somehow got down his words as he would have spoken them so that there was an incredible seamlessness between the two.
from A Test of Poetry
The test of poetry is the range of pleasure it affords as sight, sound, and intellection. This is its purpose as art. But readers have rarely been presented with comparative standards to quicken their judgments: 'comparative' in the sense that the matter with which poems deal may be compared. To suggest standards is the purpose of this book. By presenting for comparison several translations of the same passage from Homer, an elegy of Ovid and lines from Herrick that read like an adaptation of Ovid, or a fifteenth century poem about a cock and a recent poem about white chickens, and so on, a means for judging the values of poetic writing is established by the examples themselves.