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“...we would do poetry a favor..."

During a long-ago panel discussion involving Robert Duncan, Philip Levine and an unnamed third poet, the latter bemoaned those who didn't embrace poetry, believing they lacked any sense of beauty or even a reason for being. Duncan disagreed, saying:

"Some people do not twig to poetry, they may be inspired by things others don't care for - the operas of Wagner, the novels of Proust, the ballets of Merce Cunningham, the stories of Katherine Mansfield, the philosophical writing of Schopenhauer, the paintings of Francis Bacon. Perhaps they love the beauty of design, of Tiffany vases or of machinery, V-8 engines or drop forges. I think we would do poetry a favor if we stopped trying to shove it down the throats of those for whom it has no connection or resonance. But don't forget, if absolutely nothing turns you on, stirs you body and soul, you are in trouble."

I appreciate Duncan's sentiment, and especially his inclusion of "V-8 engines or drop forges" as objects worthy of aesthetic admiration. And I respect the warning he delivered in that final sentence.

(Quoted from Levine's My Lost Poets: A Life in Poetry.)

June 10, 2019 in Art, Books | Permalink


That's a good excerpt, even if I just can't get into poetry.

Posted by: Paul at Jun 10, 2019 5:08:45 PM

Great statement. Along similar lines, Frank O’Hara, in his faux-manifesto “Personism”:

“Too many poets act like a middle-aged mother trying to get her kids to eat too much cooked meat, and potatoes with drippings (tears). I don’t give a damn whether they eat or not. Forced feeding leads to excessive thinness (effete).

Nobody should experience anything they don’t need to, if they don’t need poetry bully for them. I like the movies too. And after all, only Whitman and Crane and Williams, of the American poets, are better than the movies.”

Posted by: Michael Leddy at Jun 11, 2019 10:08:45 AM

Well, so long as poetry is presented as a form of literature rather than as entertainment or as performance art, it's going to have a limited audience. There's no point in whining about it, unless whining is a sly way of delineating a kind of superiority. As the song goes: "There ain't no money in poetry. That's what sets the poet free." When one can imagine a poet hired to perform at a wedding as easily as hiring a musician today then poetry will prosper. Yeah, a good bit of it will be really lame, derivative, imitative -- so what's new about that?

Posted by: Robert M Roman at Jun 24, 2019 9:34:18 AM