Roundtable on Poetry

Paul Graham Raven

In addition to the usual suspects, the poets I return to regularly – for pleasure and brain-cleansing as often as inspiration, to be honest – are Allen Ginsberg (who needs no introduction), the late Edwin Morgan (who shouldn’t need any introduction, especially to readers of sf, but regrettably often does), and Ted Hughes (who I can clearly see is a troubled and troublesome human being in many ways, but whose poems read like he’s was carving the words into your temporal lobes with a quill made of pure flame).

That’s pretty much it for now, I think… with the caveat that, as with all these sorts of questions, next week’s answers could be completely different. 🙂

Peter Straub

I hereby confess that I never liked Bob Dylan very much, apart from “Lay,Lady, Lay” and the final, jazz-like tune on New Morning.

But John Clute is right about this:

Like Michael (Dirda) and (I suspect) Peter (Straub) and others talking here, there is a hemi-demi-semi-iambic pentameter ostinato running through what we write, fiction or nonfiction, which needs constant violation (like what gardeners do) to stay alive. Out of this basic pulse of story, for me, the tags emerge like dolphins:

Karen Joy Fowler

To the wonderful lists of poets already cited here (cannot wait to read what you write about Larkin, Michael D) I love Louise Bogan, Louise Gluck, and recent Pulitzer winner, Kay Ryan.

Peter Straub

Yes, Louise Bogan and Louise Gluck, I love them both, as well. Geoffrey Hill, too, especially Mercian Hymns.

Guy Gavriel Kay

No Dylan, no Dillard, a traitor to your generation, Peter. Dylan Thomas, at least? Or at least when you were young?

But it’s okay, I have some real issues with Larkin as poet and vogue. Have worked at him since undergrad and am (mostly) giving myself permission to wind down. I note that Auden, in an intro to a Cavafy edition wrote of how a poet’s ‘sensibility’ could come through, even in translation (Bellos says much more can). And Cavafy (and Seferis, even more) elicit that affinity in me, for example. Larkin feels pinched, sour, curtailed … yes, his England was these things, and he may ‘show it to us’, but … Seferis had the same war and an even more appalling aftermath, and it grew him, heartbreakingly. I am not even getting into the brouhaha on ‘Larkin as bad racist man’ post-Motion and Letters … because there are so many writers we admire, some cited here, who were dreadful people. Rilke, for one.

Peter Straub

I did like a bunch of Dylan Thomas poems when I was young and uneasy under the apple boughs. Then in Dublin I met some poets  who flat-out imitated Thomas, and they somehow revealed to me that he was  nowhere as great as I’d thought.

But speaking of being a traitor to my generation… after I reached  the age of fourteen, I was never able really to bear Elvis Presley.

5 thoughts on “Roundtable on Poetry

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  • March 21, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    The original poster’s choice of “useful/inspirational” as a standard for desirable poetry gives me the willies. Literature functions on many levels, of course—but I am saddened to see speculative fiction writers (whose work would generally not be primarily intended as either “useful” or “inspirational” applying these narrow strictures to poetry appreciation. And I am even more grieved to see, with few exceptions, tastes restricted to the ancient, non-living, or geriatric poets (I will grant you that Russell Edson, despite his codgerliness, is way cool). The real outrage, though, is the apparent lack of any awareness of science-fiction poets. While any decent writer should be reading a broad spectrum of work outside their field, to exhibit a complete lack of interest in and awareness of a whole subset of active writers within one’s own genre when discussing poetry is pathetic. Not a single poet mentioned identifies as a speculative poet.

    The Science Fiction Poetry Association, which encompasses SF, fantasy, and horror, has existed since 1978. Its members have been widely published in mainstream as well as SF venues. SFPA publishes a quarterly journal, Star*Line, as well as annual anthologies. The winners of its annual Rhysling Award appear regularly in the Nebula winners anthology—but somehow, it would seem, fly completely below the radar of those who have posted here. Many, if not most, venues that publish short SF also publish SF poetry—do none of you read the other works in the periodicals where you are published?

    We write—and read—speculative poetry for the same reasons that apply to the reading and writing of speculative fiction: to entertain, evoke, and stimulate, and to present new ideas (as well as old ideas made new), using original ways of looking at the world. Those are appropriate standards for poetry, not the dreary utilitarianism that would define poetry as having only didactic and motivational purposes.

    F.J. Bergmann
    Star*Line Editor
    Science Fiction Poetry Association

  • March 27, 2012 at 3:30 pm

    I’d like to apologize for the “useful/inspirational” language. That was very sloppy, as I tossed it off in a rush. I agree that there is some very fine spec fic poetry out there that deserves to be better known.

  • March 27, 2012 at 8:09 pm

    Kenneth Burke called literature “equipment for living,” and I found that view a, um, useful corrective to the art-for-art’s-sake aesthetic that dominated my early education–and also an alternative to the flatter moral-critical approaches of, say Marxist theorists. So thinking of poetry as useful or even inspirational isn’t a big deal, even if neither of those terms exhausts our relationship to the art. As for which poets one reads for whatever reason–when you start putting words on paper, you’re playing with the big boys and girls, and if you have to be prepared to be compared to two or three millennia’s worth of news that has managed to stay news. If you want to know who the great poets of the twenty-first century are, ask me in a hundred years or two. (Though you shall find me a grave man.)

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