If what one means is that there is always difficult work to do in preparation for doing great work in some field and, sometimes, even more difficulty in the production of some particular great work in that field, I’m on board.
But in a fine essay at The London Review of Books , “Is Wagner bad for us?,” Nicholas Spice says this near the end:
I know that’s meant as a compliment to poetry, but I’m glad for that “much” immediately before “great music,’ and I’d be very glad for a similar qualifier applied to “poetry.”
March 28, 2013 7 Comments
Well, not really.
I’ve just started violin lessons. I’ve owned a decent violin for years, but I never played it much, mostly because you actually have to read music to play the thing. It’s not like mandolin (which is tuned the same way), where it’s easy to find tablature which tells you just what fret to use, and in any case there are no frets on a violin so you have to be much more accurate with the left hand and you have to stretch your left hand fingers just a smidgen more than you do on a mandolin. I’m flat all the time except when I overcompensate and go sharp. It feels like starting over.
But when the band died a couple of months ago I found myself with some time and decided to take the plunge and learn to read music by learning to play fiddle. I’m terrible at it, and, without scheduled practices where other people are depending on me, I’m not so good at scheduling the time I thought I’d have for private practice.
I’m not sure it’s a good thing my teacher is patient. I think I could use a few raps on the knuckles with a ruler.
March 14, 2013 3 Comments
It’s a long story, but here are two limericks—
The truth of those tales of old Sodom
Is nothing is there at the bottom
Of infinite space,
Of faith or of grace—
So light ‘em up boys, if you got ‘em.
The cruelty of gods is assured,
Though we’ve become somewhat inured.
A moment of mirth
Has infinite worth—
Ask Job after what he endured.
March 6, 2013 No Comments
I’m feeling guilty because I have not been working very hard for months now—witness this near-barren blog—and doubly guilty becaus of my part in a Linked In discussion started by Anonymous, (not his/her real name) now closed and hidden because of some unkind words (mine weren’t especially kind), with this topic:
“Why do so many people write rhyming doggerel only fit for their mum’s fridge and consider themselves poets?”
I answered (slightly edited for punctuation, grammar, and spelling, and the italicized words added for clarity):
“For the same reasons even more people, by orders of magnitude, write sentimental, pretentious, self-absorbed crappy free verse—because they think poetry is ‘self-expression’ and that readers should be just as interested in their ‘feelings’ as they themselves are, or they think that poetry comes from inspiration (some dame in robes whispering sweet crap in their ears) so that they’re not really responsible for the crap they write—and both groups, the rhyming doggerel folks and the crappy free-versers, refuse to acknowledge that writing good poetry is damned hard work and requires reading—especially reading the poetry our culture has valued (and lots of it) and hard thinking about the minutia of every line, about its grammar (don’t get me started), about its sounds, and about just how they advance the structure of the poem—and then trying to write passable imitations of particular poems.
If you’ve worked hard enough to be able to write a few good sonnets and recognize why the 150 others you wrote aren’t good, then you can, with some more work, learn to write a few good short poems in any form, including free verse. The same is true for most forms, but not free verse, which teaches you nothing about how to work with serious formal constraints. And neither sonnets nor free verse do much to teach you how to tell a long story in verse of any kind—learning how to structure a long story, whether or not it’s in verse, requires quite a different skill set, which you learn by (surprise!) reading lots of long stories and trying to imitate what they do.
Nobody but beginning poets—not beginning lawyers, beginning baseball players, beginning gamblers, beginning carpenters, beginning plumbers, beginning teachers, beginning surgeons, beginning guitar players—nobody else, in any significant proportion, believes that good work will just come with their ‘flow.’ It’s an idiotic thing to believe.”
Cadging Hillel, if not now, when?
January 22, 2013 4 Comments
I got the idea from this article in The Atlantic a few months ago. I probably won’t keep the title.
So here’s the deal – T. gondii needs a cat
To reproduce, but it can live in us
And many other mammals — say, a rat.
Now rats, of course, don’t much like dear Puss.
But we do. And we make a lot of trash
Which rats do like, so what’s a rat to do?
Being small, most are cautious. The rash
Are cat food, and have fewer children, too.
Now what’s a parasite to do? Make male
Rats brave, and sexy to the females, which
Will bear infected kitty chow, and cats
Who eat it share with us, and when we ail,
T. gondii plays with us — guys get the itch
To drive too fast, and gals heat up like cats.
November 11, 2012 5 Comments
Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, I wish you all the best.
April 19, 2012 2 Comments
In a 2002 letter to Lynx (unfortunately I can’t link to Lynx, only to specific instances of its pieces), Khizra Aslam describes the form she devised and provides a link to her own ghazanelle in Lynx. It’s the third poem as you scroll down the page.
March 6, 2012 No Comments
We Are A Kind Of Map
A buzzer-beating three-point shot reveals
We’re born to know our truths about this world,
And so is everything: a fly conceals
Itself till it’s grown wings and they’ve unfurled;
A virus has the key for just that cell
Where it can multiply; that cell, dying,
Creates an army ready to repel
The sudden viral horde or die trying.
Of course that’s metaphor, but not a lie,
Not just a way of trying to impose
Some sense on senselessness, a useless “Why?”
We answer till we like what we suppose.
There’s something might be learned when we’re betrayed
Seeing the world with eyes the world has made.
Changes prompted by comments on a mail list – if I broke it, then I’m the one who broke it.
February 16, 2012 6 Comments
It used to be I’d wonder at her laughter —
I’d try to tease her secrets from that tone,
From how she’d turn away just moments after —
Or was that when I didn’t join her laughter?
Sometimes she laughed at something she alone
Could see, and something jagged in her tone
Would haunt my waking dreams for days thereafter,
Such a bitter mockery of laughter
That every laugh I heard, even my own,
Became infected by its mordant tone.
Now every night and every day hereafter
Forever will be crowded with her laughter,
My fascination with its broken tone,
The secrets buried in her teasing laughter.
February 5, 2012 4 Comments
The January 30th issue of The New Yorker prints a poem (not available online to non-subscribers) called “Booty,” by Matthew Sweeney, which I rather liked on first reading. But when I listened to the recording of the author’s reading of the poem included in The New Yorker‘s iPad app’s presentation, things began to fall apart.
It’s a short poem, 20 lines averaging a little more than 4 words/line, and 10 of the lines are end-punctuated with either a comma or a period; the other 10 have only internal punctuation. When Sweeney reads, he pauses at each of the 10 line breaks with final punctuation. Of those line breaks without final punctuation, there are 6 which he doesn’t mark vocally at all, and 4 which he does mark with pauses every bit as long as those accompanying punctuated line breaks.
As it happens, those 4 all precede a prepositional phrase at the beginning of the next line. But so does one of the 6 unpunctuated line breaks without a pause, and there is one prepositional phrase internal to a line which does not receive a pause, so that’s not what’s happening.
On the page of The New Yorker, only 2 lines extend as much as 6 characters past any adjacent line, and those long lines have lots of the letter ‘i’. The right edge of the poem is genteelly ragged, with only line 2 having a whole word (“T-shirt”) beyond the lengths of its neighbors. Late in the poem, Sweeney breaks a line after “the”
so I slunk on, to the
market, where I half-lived,
and avoids a visually very short line, either “so I slunk on,” or “where I half-lived,” but he doesn’t read his line-breaks anyway, and, by the way, what’s with that comma after “on”? He’s also not concerned with syllables per line, which range from 4 to 7; he’s not counting words, which range from 2 to 6 per line; he certainly isn’t counting stresses, which range from 1 to 3 per line in his reading — just what is he doing?
It seems to me Sweeney wants his poem to sound a particular way, and so it does when he reads it; he wants it to look a particular way, and so it does when printed in an appropriate font. But either he doesn’t care how readers who haven’t heard him read the poem will read it to themselves, or he believes that his own sensibility is sufficiently representative of some more-or-less universal poetic sensibility that worthy readers will get it right by … well, somehow.
I guess I’m NOT a worthy reader.
January 30, 2012 1 Comment