Jon Corelis wrote:
>If a poem deserves respect as a moral statement, does it therefore deserve
>espect as poetic art?
Not if it is primarily a tract. Pope's "Essay in Criticism" remains for
this heretic perhaps (notice the weaseling) the most insufferable
collection of iambic pentameter lines in English. Pope was could not
stop wagging his finger in people's faces. If it is only valuable as a
moral statement is it therefore moral as a poem? I'm not playing games,
I'm quite serious.
>Is it possible to write a bad poem deploring the Holocaust? If the answer is
>no, what are the implications for aesthetics of the claim that a poem's
>quality can be assured by its choice of subject matter? If the answer is yes,
>then if someone showed you a bad poem deploring the Holocaust and asked what
>you thought of it, how honestly would you answer?
Yes it is possible, but it depends who's doing the writing. I would
probably lie if the person were a survivor or "Second Generation"
People are far more important than some soi-disant poetic truth. I
might tell that truth if the person were using the Shoa as a literary
subject or was capitalizing on it (the latter charge has been leveled at
William Styron, about whom it is a lie). Oh, it will come: exploitation
happens. Kids in school who are asked to write poetry about the
Holocaust are almost always going to write unfinished bathetic stuff
because that is what kids write, regardless of subject...unless they are
born troublemakers with imaginations. I still have bragging rights on
my 24-year-old son who, when he had to write about the Holocaust for a
class project in early 1994, wrote a story not from the mouth of one of
the victims but from the point of view of the commandant of an
extermination camp who is about to be executed on a gallows. I know he
had recently seen Schindler's List, I don't know that he'd yet read An
Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, but that is what the story was. Ben
went outside the box even then: thank God he's never found his way back
into it. I think if he had written bathetic crap...I would have shut up
and/or been a complete hypocrite. What is more important: Art and its
so-called Great Truths or family?
>A member of a poetry workshop reads a poem about the damaging effects of
>sexism. The poem is a deeply felt expression of a personal experience which
>clearly deserves compassion and respect. The group immediately starts talking
>about the problem of sexism, about other poems on the theme, about how writing
>poems about it can contribute to a solution. But nobody raises the issue of
>whether the poem is good as poetry or not. There is apparently a general tacit
>agreement that it is not appropriate to judge such a poem by the same critical
>standards as a poem about flowers or sunrise or rivers. Is this something to
>worry about or not?
You went to the wrong workshop. Someone once came into a workshop I
belonged to and read a long rambling diatribe against her family,
especially men. Yawn. It sucked. It was too long and all over the
place so that its good moments were largely buried. Anyone who tried to
explain their problem with the poem was met by an impenetrable wall of
Yeah But. She left and never came back. We had _not _been unkind.
More fun: in 1994 where I brought there something already accepted for
publication in a journal called _Gaia_. I did not say that. It was
about Sarajevo during the nadir of the Serbo-Croatian unpleasantness.
Someone named Maggie Mohr jumped on me like I'd violated her cat. She
was, that is to say, livid. Why? The poem was ANGRY, it did not have
the right shape. How close did I come to saying IT'S A FUCKING WAR
POEM, YOU TWIT! Horrors--I didn't turn it into some lapidary exercise.
Now, undoubtedly I was ignoring SOMEone's critical standards. To this
day I have never forgotten that lesson. Form is nice. In the absence
of form keep the emotion. I wish I could write like Wilfred Owen. I can't.
>At more than one open mike reading I have been to, someone reading a poem they
>had written was so moved by it that they broke down in tears. The audience
>response (myself included) was to applaud particularly loudly in sympathetic
>support. Would a folk singer who was moved to tears while performing one of
>their own songs be given a similar audience response? Would a pianist?
>Would an artist standing sobbing before one of their own paintings?
A word to that reader: rehearse til the poem is nonsense syllables.
Someone once told the journalist Pete Hamill "Kid, if you cry while
you're writing the story, your reader won't."
>A poet at a reading delivers several impassioned poems denouncing the Iraq
>war, then goes into the parking lot, climbs into their car, and drives alone
>home. Is there anything wrong with this scenario? Is there anything wrong
>with the fact that it would almost never occur to anyone to wonder if there is
>anything wrong with it?
No and no. Maybe the buses stopped running.
Kenneth Wolman www.kenwolman.com kenwolman.blogspot.com
39. Not observing the imperfections of others, preserving silence and a
continual communion with God will eradicate great imperfections from the
soul and make it the possessor of great virtues.
--St. John of the Cross,
Maxims on Love (The Minor Works)