Wednesday, January 09, 2008

reply to Josh

I left the following comment on in response to a posting by Seth Abramson on his blog:

You quote Harold Bloom as insisting that one of the primary ways one must approach a poem is as a judge -- "Is it Good?"

I remember being intimidated by that notion when I was a youngster. How could I judge Great Poetry when I hardly knew what poetry was?

Part of my solution was throwing out the notion that there is such a thing as Great Poetry or a Great Poet. It's just not useful.

The first thing I ask of a poem is: am I enjoying the experience of reading you? I don't just mean am I getting a warm feeling but am I being engaged, pulled in, surprised, all those things one hopes will wash one out of the doldrums.

Different people will enjoy different experiences. Far as books are concerned (let alone movies) I know there are plenty I can't abide (even ones everybody else seems to love!). Why should it be different with poetry? Thus, my main reply to those who make pronouncements about poetry is Poetry Is Not One Thing.

Fiction isn’t just Finnegan’s Wake … or Nancy Drew. Casablanca isn’t the only possible movie, any more than Die Hard 8 or . Poetry can be many things, too.

The only people whose job description includes judging whether a poem is good: editors, poets ... and, I suppose, those who study poems, though I'd suggest it's more important for the student of poetry to be able to see what the poem does than judge whether it's good. Many well-crafted, interesting, even admirable pieces aren't the sort of thing you ever want to read again.

Readers shouldn’t have to judge. Except whether the object before them is worth the time they could be using to vacuum a rug, the mental effort they could be putting toward balancing a checkbook or puzzling over a crossword.

[The comment is not precisely the comment posted at Seth’s blog, but the edits are mostly for clarity.]

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