Friday, October 27, 2006

Sonnet for Poets; Comment on Post-Modern Poetry

A Sonnet for Poets

The voice I seek to voice is only sand.
Look now—the Devil wears a tricorn hat.
Napoleon on amphetamines. Remand
This suspect to that prison, this or that.
Merlin made an elephant of a toad.
Bless the small finches! All the tan oaks
Are dropping acorns on the asphalt road.
No dog. No cat. The poets get the jokes.
Oh, a blue martini wonderfully stirred.
When then ile fit you. A cranberry Cape Cod.
The glass is sweating so the ice is blurred.
I believe in the Devil but not in God.
The couplet should make something of all this:
Dunk your head in a vat of hippo piss.

My mood seems to be improving, so I let today’s sonnet disassociate in the Post-Modern tradition. And I want to say this, and mark my words: It is easier to write obscurely in a dissociative, Post-Modern fashion than in a traditional fashion. Narrative is hard work; so is unity. When these are removed, a sonnet can be composed much more quickly, while a free verse poem finds its own propulsion and the only readers that remain for this fiasco are poets and aficionados—the state of poetry today. Robert Pinsky tried to ameliorate this cultural trend by making a record of Americans’ favorite poems. I do not believe Charles Olson or Paul Celan were represented.

William Carlos Williams averred that “The Waste Land” ruined poetry because it came too early for proper literary development. In other words, it was inevitable but it came prematurely; it was a futuristic anachronism for the state of poetry at that time. In my essays on Eliot, available at The Melic Review, I repeatedly make the point that there has been nothing really new in poetry since “The Waste Land,” which contains everything from lower class chatter to nonsense sounds and a sort of false erudition. This doesn’t mean there have not been great stylists since, like Thomas or Larkin or Roethke or Strand, only that there were no rules left to break. Thus I am free to write a sonnet today whose puzzle for the reader is the reader’s puzzle and not mine. It is not my job as a Post-Modern poet to make sense, only to make a few connections between images and emotions. If this is how you like your poetry, fine. I just want to emphasize that much of what parades as new and original may in part be a blind for pure laziness, an unwillingness to learn form and clarity before galumphing about in the disorganized cupboard of the poet’s mind.

At 2 kilorats but feeling fragile,



  1. CE, I understnad the status of TWL as a watershed work. I agree with that in large part. In a way, however, I think Eliot did what Williams stated -- although I don't think ruin is the word. I think The Waste Land killed poetry, but I don't mean that in a negative way. The poem killed poetry -- and needed to -- in the same way that Zen teaches that each devotee of the Way must kill the Buddha.

    I see Frank Bidart as writing a sort of new poetry -- written out of the rubble of TWL. What do you think?

  2. Craig: Excellent post today! Love the commentary. I’m a novice poet (if that!) so I don’t pretend to understand the ruination of poetry by modern writers, but I can feel it. I do know there is a lot of lousy poetry out there though. I definitely see in your summary, a common thread that runs through all artful expression – the dumbing down and rule breaking until there’s nothing left even resembling the art’s original form. And although you don’t say it, I agree with your implication – its pretty depressing. I see it particularly in music. I can hardly find a radio station playing songs written after 2004 that I can suffer. The pounding formless rhythms and noise generated by computers accompanying words that wouldn’t make any sense (assuming you could understand what was said.) If nothing else, I appreciate the yearning one feels as they watch something classical, beautiful, delicate and intricate shattered into a formless mass and swept into the dustbin of history before one’s very eyes. I'm with you on this.

  3. Sam--yes, another way of putting it, but except for Pound, Eliot's early killing of the Buddha only, strangely, resulted eventually in the New Criticism--which found its zenith in Auden, an opposite to the early Eliot. Frank Bidart I don't know well enough to comment on but I'll look into it.

    Good to see you, Cyn.

    Dennis, thanks for posting. We should not generalize too much but I can't help agree about modern rock/pop music--it is a near complete loss of melody. I blame MTV for this a great deal. A friend of mine exposed me to "electronic music" and I couldn't believe my boredom. The Hip Hop influence leads people, even Paul Simon in his new album, to just stay on the root--one chord throughout with rhythm and a weak melody woven around it. More and more it looks like the genius of the Beatles and other late 60s groups was an anomaly. Thank God it occurred.

  4. Yes, I think it is easier to write average postmodern poetry than average poetry that makes traditional sense. And I think ninety percent of what passes for postmodern poetry is highly generic - as if the same poem is being written over and over again.

    However, when it comes to the very best writers, I think they bring an individuality to the postmodern. I've been reading Lee Harwood's Collected Poems - his dislocations, his sentences that trail off into nothing, and his images that don't seem to connect together, form a distinctive, hesitant but nevertheless intriguing voice.

    But Harwood isn't as hardcore as the American post-avant crew. I find them hard to relate to and, in the main, deathly dull. Harwood, on the other hand, does make some sense, in a similar way to bits of Ashbery. I quite like some of the UK late-modernist writers.

  5. By the way, I've discoveerd that if I'm commenting on a beta blog like yours and I click the "other" option, rather than "anonymous", I can post as usual if I then fill in name and url in the box provided. It might work the other way round as well!

  6. Anonymous8:41 PM PST

    I completely agree. Which bootyyoga
    did you acquire your bradfordedition?
    I'm very curious on this nudebritney.
    It's kinda funny, I've read this on a few osteoporosis.
    Obviously in another voice. But it's good to hear people are wideshoes

  7. hm. i agree, and enjoyed reading this post.

    i write a lot of sonnets on my blog.

  8. Interesting post.I enjoyed it more.


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