Sunday, May 23, 2010

"The Poet's Work" edited by Reginald Gibbons Post 2

I finally made my way to the end of The Poet's Work: 29 Masters of 20th Century Poetry on the Origins and Practice of their Art, edited by Reginald Gibbons. Some pieces are fully developed essays, some are collections of working notes or of aphorisms, a few are interviews, and a few more are poems. Most I forgot the moment I finished reading them. Except for Karl Shapiro's polemical piece "What Is Not Poetry?" Americans writing on poetry bore me. Too often they reduce intuitions to theories. Australian A. D. Hope does the same in his systematic exposition of "The Three Faces of Love." The Spanish are much more readable. Lorca on the duende. Antonio Machado on the sparing use of imagery in intense lyrical poetry.

Of those writing in English, Seamus Heaney, in his essay "Feelings into Words" comes the closest to evoking the spiritual in poetry. His figures--the digger, the diviner, the Tollund Man--are originally and finally mysterious. He is everywhere alert to how poets rationalize what begins as a lump in the throat. He gives me faith, instead of doctrines, process instead of procedures. Unlike Lorca's chaotic proliferation, however, this faith has its own discipline.  Heaney writes, "I like the paraphrasable extensions of a poem to be as protean as possible, and yet I like its elements to be as firm as possible." Proteus held against the rock.

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