Saturday, June 25, 2011

Invisible Keepsakes.

This is the blog where I geek out about:

But before I bore you, there is a particular phenomena occurring in those giant retail bookstores that I find most depressing. It is the encroachment into and onto the sovereign shelf space known unilaterally as: Poetry Section.


To the left it's the African-American Literature section compromised mostly of Harlequinesque paperbacks and on the right the Western section, both whose ranks are apparently bulging with readership as they strangle poor poetry out of its pitiful existence.

"Nobody writes bigger than Frank Roderus." Apparently Mr. Roderus gets paid by the page.

But the enemies from without are much less insidious, much less subtle than the enemy within. For within the very ranks of poetry books themselves come other cumbersome beasts. The bloated poetry anthology, the poetry writing and reading guides (for dummies), the little faux-gilded gift books of poetry, and of course the banal and bland critical essays.

I don't mean to be callous, but is Poetry on the top of the average "dummy's" to-do list?

And if that is not enough, the Classics section, which has apparently been relegated nameless, sulks alongside the few remaining slender volumes of poetry, banished from the school reading lists, into oblivion; The Iliad, Ulysses, most of Shakespeare's plays, gathering dust a few feet from Bukowski and Dickinson.

Emily Dickinson, her poems unpublished until her death, live on, for now...

Of course among the other poetry survivors are the recent Poet Laureates, hanging on by the skin of their Chardonnay stained teeth, and any famous actor with a rhyming dictionary and a penchant for catharsis, and any singer or musician with a surplus of lyrics. There will always be the annotated Poe's Raven in a cool teen goth friendly font collectors edition and the obligatory Beat poets with their calculated decadence, bankable rebellion.

"Beat Poets" is not an invitation to cause bodily harm to a bard. Above, one of the aforementioned little faux-gilded gift books of poetry.

Thomas, Cummings, Hughes; they soldier bravely on. But fallen is Miss Brooks and noble Hopkins, even the every man's friend Frost has gotten the cold shoulder, living out his life in ignominy on the bargain table between last year's calender of crazy (with a backward z) cats and a hip-hopped up cookbook called "Grillin' and Chillin'."

Party's over, Mr. Frost.

Of course near the registers there are still the packs of refrigerator magnets that offer the midnight snacker the convenience of pouring out their unrequited longings on the fridge front, that is as long as the heart's vocabulary is less than 500 words + punctuation.

It's as if, like Ogden Nash said, "Poets aren't very useful. Because they aren't consumeful or very produceful." But great poets are very produceful! Wallace Stevens defends the poet, calls him the "Priest of the invisible." Dylan Thomas said the poet reveals that "your bliss and suffering is forever shared and forever all your own."

Dylan Thomas in the "Poet's Pose". Ever lingering, ever pensive, ever pale.

Matthew Arnold described great poetry as "the most beautiful, impressive, and widely effective mode of saying things." Of it Keats proclaimed "Poetry should surprise—it should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance." Shelly echoes this in A Defence of Poetry (1840). "Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar. Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted."

Perennial lingerer? Pensive? Pale? Yep. Percy Blythe Shelley passes the poet test.

Carl Sandburg in Poetry Considered waxes poetic about, well, poetry. "Poetry is the journal of the sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air. Poetry is a search for syllables to shoot at the barriers of the unknown and the unknowable. Poetry is a phantom script telling how rainbows are made and why they go away. Poetry is a packsack of invisible keepsakes. Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance."

No disrespect to the venerable Mr. Sandburg, but this may in fact be where rainbows come from.

On writing poetry Emily Dickinson said "If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry." And "Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting," is how Robert Frost defines it. He says "A poem begins with a lump in the throat." And I suppose, if it's a good poem, ends with a lump in ours. is so awesome I just can't stand it.

Certainly poetry can be priggish, ostentatious, condescending and esoteric. But great poems are written in the universal language in which Christopher Fry says "man explores his own amazement." T.S Eliot wrote, "Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood." And though great poems need not be simple, they need not be complex for their own sake. They need only be the "best words saying the very best things" as Coleridge pleaded.

Poetry then, in the simplest definition is, as Thomas Gray said, "the thoughts that breathe, and words that burn." "It is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words," according to the poet of the path less traveled. Gwendolyn Brooks condensed it to this: "Poetry is life distilled."

Ms. Brooks caught in the very act! And failing gloriously the poet's test! Her poem "The Bean Eaters" is one of my favorites, one I wish I'd written.

Perhaps though the English poet Robert Browning best puts his finger on the eternal nature of the poem, poetry writing and the spiritual kinship it engenders, as we, made in our Creator's image, imitate God, "the perfect poet, Who in His person acts His own creations."


  1. wow that is some real geeking. your prose is very poetic

  2. Annabelle! I will take that as a compliment...I think. Ha.

  3. yes, it was intended as such. I do not always make very clear thoughts when I am tired.

  4. I thought it was. I was geeking pretty hard though. Thanks for the compliment.

  5. yeah. . . a lot of it went over my head. Possibly I find little affinity for poetry due to my inability not to speed-read. I imagine I had the same blank look I receive when I start comparing Ubuntu and Chrome OS. Apparently it is incomprehensible to many that I do not use Windows or Mac.

    P.S. you may need to disregard anything I comment/post after 22:00 Pacific time. I was in Colorado, completely exhausted, and do not even remember posting that comment. I do, however, remember thinking about it last week after I read it the first time.

  6. Yeah poetry and speed reading is like fast-forwarding through sunrise to get to the workday. Or something like that.

    You and your robot talk. No wonder you read so fast with your keen, machine mind. Colorado sounds lovely right about now, hitting 100+ with the heat index everyday here....

  7. hahaha. I am laughing really hard at your 3rd sentence. Colorado was actually in the mid-high 90s. miserably hot. As was CA when I got back. But, oh, Colorado was so much more beautiful. Nothing compares to a rocky mountain sunset. Not even a beach sunset. God painted such beauty out there. Here too, I believe, but it's covered in self-praising graffiti. Though this gives no justice to what I saw, it might give you an idea--

  8. oops--too small (and I'm going to try some HTML let's hope it works) this is what I meant to post

  9. Ah! Gorgeous!!! A visible keepsake!!! Of our Father creator. I love it! Thank you!

  10. I tried to stop and get some good pics, but alas! The timing and placement of freeway exits were not in accord with my wishes. I long to return. (and I have an excuse since the Compassion store was closed and none of my friends were in the office when I showed up at CI!!)