CBR14Bingo – Verse
The Hatred of Poetry
This book is just fantastic. I’ve never not thoroughly enjoyed any of Ben Lerner’s books (and maybe one day I will read some of his poetry). He takes the topic of why people hate poetry and thinks through the wheres and whys of it — that it’s old, that it’s hard to read, that it’s oblique, and that it’s annoying.
But he’s a poet and well, irony and all that.
“Poetry arises from the desire to get beyond the finite and the historical—the human world of violence and difference—and to reach the transcendent or divine. You’re moved to write a poem, you feel called upon to sing, because of that transcendent impulse. But as soon as you move from that impulse to the actual poem, the song of the infinite is compromised by the finitude of its terms.”
How to Read a Poem
I’ve been reading more of these “How to Read a Poem” books in preparation for the new school year. This one is not….more technical….but it is written not by a professor but by a poet. If you’ve ever taken more than one poetry class, and especially if you have ever had one taught by a poet versus someone with a PhD in poetry or vice versa, or know poets then you might understand how the differences might matter.
Edward Hirsch is a poet and so brings a poet’s sensibilities to this reading. If I had to describe the difference, think about it as someone who was taught to read poetry versus someone who was born to read poetry. This book offers up technical expertise too, but it cannot escape (and this is a good thing) a total love and appreciation for poetry. That means the the structure of this book is a little more oblique than some of the more technical works or scholarly ones like Thomas C Foster’s books. It also means that you need to be committed to the task. Edward Hirsch is so clearly an expert, but like I said, this is very much a when the student is ready, the teacher will appear kind of book.
“We live in a superficial, media-driven culture that often seems uncomfortable with true depths of feeling. Indeed, it seems as if our culture has become increasingly intolerant of that acute sorrow, that intense mental anguish and deep remorse which may be defined as grief. We want to medicate such sorrow away. We want to divide it into recognizable stages so that grief can be labeled, tamed, and put behind us.”
“There is no true poetry without conscious craft, absorbed attention, absolute concentration. There is no true poetry without unconscious invention. The reader, too, enters into the relationship between the controlled and the uncontrollable aspects of the art. Shelley says that ‘Poetry redeems from decay the visitations of the divinity in man.’ The poem is a genie that comes out of the bottle to liberate the reader’s imagination, the divinity within. The writer and the reader make meaning together. The poet who calls on help from the heavenly muse also does so on behalf of the imaginative reader.”