Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Modern Poetry Blues

Yesterday, I decided that I would act like I live here in Blacksburg: I got my library card. And, as Arthur taught us, Having fun isn't hard when you've got a library card! (if you don't believe me, see for yourself)

I walked into the Blacksburg Public Library, and paused. It is beautiful in there: full of community event bulletin boards, happy posters, pleasant workers, and shelves and shelves of books. I walked in and thought, I want to work here! And then it hit me: of all the positions I've held in my rather diverse work experience, I loved nothing like I loved working in the library. I think, when I'm able, I want to pursue a Masters in Library Science, specializing in children's literature. Doesn't that sound lovely?

I left the library with three books (Oliver Twist was checked out already...): Julie and Julia by Julie Powell, How to Buy the Love of Reading, by Tanya Egan Gibson, and The Best American Poetry 2010, edited by Amy Gerstler and Devid Lehman. 

Poetry. I need to get back in the game. That's exactly why I checked out the most recent collection of lauded American poetry: to see what poetry is now. I'm terribly old-fashioned, I know, but it saddened me to see the purposeful, careful, genius structure of traditional poetry replaced by prosy free verse that seems more self-important than concerned with containing a deeper idea, a beauty deeper than its own brilliance.  

I'm sure as I continue through this anthology, I will find poems I love and see the merit of, and perhaps I will learn to appreciate all of them for what they are, but now, sipping my coffee and reading the first handful of poems, I wonder what happened to men like Keats and Hopkins and Frost. We've replaced the subtlety of form and complex images with the shock of too-honest similes, too obviously full of sex, despair, or sentimental childhood memories.

I know many disagree with me, and perhaps I'm just not as informed on the subject as I should be, but I wonder what is to be gained by discarding structure, form, and purpose for a so-called freedom that shamelessly disregards the history and literature of hundreds of years; we've discarded the original masters like Shakespeare and Wordsworth for the more recent rebels, like William Carlos Williams, who dare to write obtusely and baldly, forgetting that poetry is about sound and sense and not a blank page on which to rant and shock.

It makes me sad to see that poetry, like our culture, like academia, literature, ethics, art, and relationships, has ceased to be based on its own foundation. I know I shouldn't be surprised, since we live in a world fast decaying, continuing the Fall that began thousands of years ago. I hate that beauty, too, is tainted and changed.
I wonder, if our poetry seems apathetic about its past, about the deep and beautiful tradition of its history, what's a girl to do?


  1. Keep using that brilliantly perceptive and intelligent mind of yours, Millie Jones Sweeny. And please keep writing about your thoughts and challenging me to think deeper, too.

  2. Indeed, we taught you well, Mrs. Sweeney! :) Lovely wedding pictures below, by the way; so happy for you!