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Occasional Poetry

Elizabeth Alexander’s poem for the inauguration got me looking, and I’m amazed to discover that in more than 6 years I’ve never blogged about occasional poetry. A quick search of the web doesn’t find much by other folks, either.

Herewith a quickie:

Occasional verse is verse written for an occasion, and any occasion will do, from Obama’s inauguration to your great-aunt Sally’s first nose-piercing. One of the jobs of the English Poet Laureate is to write birthday odes for the monarch — Philip Larkin refused the job in an occasional poem suggesting Ted Hughes would do it, and so he did.

Critical regard for occasional poetry has suffered for a century because, in the estimation of some Modernist and post-modern theory, poetry should not be instrumental. Any such theory is wrong.

I write occasional poems (one is here); I have a page featuring occasional occasional poems by me and others; I’ll write for your occasion for a small fee.

Here endeth the quickie. One day I may say more.

Just one more thing: the discussions of Alexander’s poem on poetry boards and lists have not been particularly kind, and I participated in that unkindness. It seems I should put my metrical feet where my critical mouth is, and, since I’m late on the weekly sonnet podcast, I’ve written an inaugural sonnet. I’ll record and podcast it tonight after donning my flame-retardant suit.

Patrick Gillespie found and posted a collection of poems celebrating Obama’s election here — you’ll need to scroll down a ways. They’re a motley bunch.

Update 2:
Jeez, I should read more carefully — see Patrick Gillespie’s comment below. In my (feeble) defense, I might note that there is an article about poets who wrote poems for Obama just above the set of poems, and that some of the same poets named in the article also wrote poems for Hayden Carruth. But it’s no excuse.

Update 3:
“January 20, 2009″ is podcast.There’s lots more here.

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1 Patrick Gillespie { 01.22.09 at 6:35 pm }

Hey Mike!

Correction: I didn’t collect those poems. That post was taken from an E-Mail I receive on a regular basis from another poet – Ron Lewis (who doesn’t have his own website). And the poems weren’t for Obama’s election, but in honor of the late Hayden Carruth.

Alexander’s poem is comfort food – well-intentioned and well-meaning but nothing for the ages. The imagery is run-of-the-mill. The worst of it was her reading . Why do poets read that way? It seems to be a free verse affectation. So many free verse poets read in this same stilted, school-marmish diction. It’s God-awful. Then they emphasize line ends lest we mistake it for prose. (Ok, so it’s lineated prose. We get it.) She might as well have been reading the warning label on a pill box.

2 Patrick Gillespie { 01.23.09 at 7:53 am }

No defense needed, Mike. I spent a summer down in Bennington; heard Hayden read and sat with him at the Cafe at Bennington College. He paid little to no attention to me, the old man. But he *was* paying attention…

To a middle-aged red-head bombshell wearing leopard-skin tights.

I respected that.

I mean: If he had paid any attention to *me* , instead of her, then I *couldn’t* have respected that. There was another kind of poetry that was captivating him.

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