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BRITISH-IRISH-POETS  1998

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Subject:

The great poetry question

From:

"Jon Corelis" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Jon Corelis

Date:

Tue, 14 Apr 98 11:25:09 PDT

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (61 lines)

 >  From: "Lawrence Upton." <[log in to unmask]
 >
 >  Instead of a few being classified as great, now a few poems are
 >  allowed the name I still want to know what the criteria are
 >  If they exist

   Well I'll give it a try.

   Great poetry is poetry that connects us with our fundamental nature,
with the thing which is  most personal about us and which we share
with everyone else:  the conflict between our instinctive faith that we
are immortal and our intellectual certainty that we are not.  This
conflict is too threatening to be dealt with on an everyday basis, or
almost at all.  Yet as much as we want to we can't live in denial of it
and if we could then life wouldn't be worth living.  So we need art to
enable us to face, share, and work through the dread in a manner which
will not destroy us.  The controlled anxiety with which this process is
fraught gives great art its salient quality of being what Aristotle
called spoudaios, a word for which there is no translation, though I
think in all seriousness the closest approximation in English is the hip
slang term "heavy".  It is the quality of being spoudaios which for
instance at certain magical moments in theatre makes an intense
breathless quiet descend on the audience, because you know that
something is happening which you really absolutely no shit have to care
about.

   Some may argue that this view reduces the intellectual and moral
complexities of art to a single type of experience.  The reply to this
objection is that we are talking of something prior to and at the basis
of those complexities:  it is the quality of being spoudaios that makes
those complexities humanly significant.

   To take an example, consider one of those supreme moments of poetic
art, the scene in As You Like It where young Orlando, frantic with
hunger and mad with anxiety for his beloved aged retainer, bursts upon
the banished Duke's party of exiles demanding food at sword point, only
to be astonished by their kindness:

           Speak you so gently? Pardon me, I pray you:
           I thought that all things had been savage here...

Those lines, which  alone almost in themselves deserve to be called a
great poem, could generate many essays to explain their moral and
intellectual implications:  the ironic inversion of nature and culture,
the contrast between natural generosity and socialized acquisitiveness,
the way in which the impetuousity of youth can be turned from brutality
to enterprise under the wise influence of age.  But the ultimate
intellectual lesson they convey is the heavy one that none of the
professors droning away at their lecterns could ever teach us: that when
we have been stripped of everything that can be taken away from us, what
remains is not selfishness but compassion.  And their moral lesson is
the heavy one which all the preachers fulminating at their lecterns
could never instill in us:  that being a mortal human being is a
privilege, and that we must make ourselves worthy of it.  Doing this is
what great poetry is good for.

To:  BRITPOE([log in to unmask])


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