Contemporary poetry and real poetry

Much as what passes for poetry today is not what I could call poetry. Here is a fictitious example of the contemporary, post-modern poem:

The jar lay on the floor
It looked good to me,
So I kicked it across the hardwood and listened to it
Clink and clank like a train on worn out tracks.

Um, actually, that’s not half bad. I just spit that out. Let me try again at post-modern emptiness:

Cindy lay on the bed, naked.
We had just made love.
I smoked a cigarette and thought about a show
I had seen on TV the night before.
This is some life, I thought.
And it was.

Okay, that’s more like it – vacuous. Devoid of subtly and almost totally lacking in meaning.

Most of what I read from contemporary poets lacks rhythm, lacks music, lacks the layers of onion skin that make delving into a truly well-worked poem so satisfy.

I read Bukowski not because he is a poet to study the way I once studied Eliot or Crane; I read Bukowski because I love his voice. I breeze through his poems enjoying the milieu of his life, picking up bits of observed detail and insight into human behavior. But, with a few exceptions, Bukowski lacks the compressed punch of a Keats or a Donne.

Poet and reviewer Edward Hirsch touches on the snobbery many current poetry critics have about what constitutes good poetry in his review of Richard Howard’s new volume, “Talking Cures.”

Howard is the most unabashedly literary — the most Wildean — of contemporary American poets. His massive learning, a full cultural arsenal, has often made him seem suspect to poetry readers who distrust great fanciness and mistakenly equate a plain style and a supposedly unmediated personal voice with “sincerity,” which is a little like saying that vanilla ice cream is more “sincere” than peach gelato. But if it’s true, as Ezra Pound said, that technique is the test of a poet’s sincerity, then Howard certainly qualifies as one of our sincerest makers, since he has been elaborating his structures — deliberately making something of himself — for more than 40 years now. (emphasis added)

To me, a plain style is perfectly suited to prose, but not to poetry. The point of poetry is to escape the drabness of our plain and ponderous lives; poetry should compact our experiences and excite our senses, not numb us with a sense of sameness and predictability. From poetry, we should gain a new way of seeing old things, not the same old way of seeing everything.

The samples of Howard’s poetry in Hirsch’s review make me think that he is my kind of poet.

… Everyone knows my history,
complete with goddesses, islands, all those hoary lies!
I have no tales to tell, I have only
echoes. The real Ulysses puts in his appearance
between other men’s lines, the true Odysseus
shows up in unspeakable pauses, the gaps and blanks
where life hasn’t already been turned into
“my” wanderings, “my” homecoming, even “my” dog!

This from a poem about Ulysses taking a post-modern view of his legend, but it is written with a modern cadence that lifts it above post-modern boredom.

I think I’ll buy this book.

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