Having spent a good deal of yesterday afternoon unsuccessfully trying to craft a poem, I am reminded of two things: First, poetry matters, as Dana Gioia argued in his masterful book invoking that idea. And second, poetry is hard work. Which is good, because if it weren't there would be more poets than there are already, and contemporary poetry would be even more meaningless than it is.
I second Czeslaw Milosz's penetrating condemnation of contemporary verse, The Witness of Poetry. In these lectures, first delivered at Harvard, Milosz exposes 20th century poetry for the farce that it is - having abandoned all true form and art for a merely subjective landscape that aspires to the status of religion. But he didn't throw out the baby with the bathwater. Milosz understood that poetry can connect people with transcendence, but in order to do so it must be true to its proper calling.
That calling can be subversive, even revolutionary. When the English wanted to subjugate the Irish, they rounded up the poets, put them all in jail, and destroyed their harps. They must have understood what Luis Cernuda meant when he wrote, "certainly a poet is almost always a revolutionary...who, like other men lacks liberty, but with the difference that he cannot accept his privation, and dashes against the walls of his prison."
The poet wants to slow the world down, to give it more careful inspection, so that she can draw out all the inherent glory and beauty of each moment, every small event or thing. And this is, indeed, a revolutionary way to look at the world, because it takes everything seriously, studies everything as "under the heavens", and looks for the stamp of divinity in every aspect of existence. We could use a revolution in that kind of thinking.
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