Thursday, April 23, 2009

Planetary Poetry Month

This month is "Planetary Poetry Month". I guess I am risking niche blogging by doing 2 "observances" blogs in a row, but I can't help it. I noticed a couple of blog worthy newspaper articles whilst researching the Earth Day blog and now I feel I must carry on to discuss Poetry month.

Firstly, let me go on record that I enjoy conventional poetry and can appreciate some of the more modern, "out there" pieces. I even have a few that I have written over the years. I own a number of books of poetry. Every so often I will find a poem that takes away my breath. I have even been to a couple of poetry readings - even discounting my Sister-in-law's Poetry Event last year. So I am happy to support Poetry Month and look with interest to read whats going on in the Poets corner during this month.

Truth is that during the month of April there is an abundance of Poetry events, publications and other goings on. There is value in these "flavour of the month" events to promote awareness as it causes lots of things of that sort to come to the surface on the appointed day or month. I have been reading all the poetry which has been published all month in the Globe in "The Other Words" blog.

She also pointed out in a recent blog regarding the Poetry Foundation's Site that Canada has more than the 3 poets listed (DAH!) . This site has biographies of poets from all parts of the world, organized in some sort of incoherent fashion (it lists areas like: New England, Africa, South-West, Canada and Britain!) and it seems that after doing comprehensive bios on British Poets (there are 53) they ran out of steam! Funny, because when you read their "about" it says: "The Poetry Foundation is one of the largest literary foundations in the world." You would think they would do a better job of promoting the famous poets in the world!

In my survey of things poetic I found an interesting essay by Charles Bernstein titled "Against National Poetry Month, As Such". This poet does not find poetry month to be kind to poets. "April is the cruelest month for poets" he writes. You can read his essay here.

To pique your interest:

As part of the spring ritual of National Poetry Month, poets are symbolically dragged into the public square in order to be humiliated with the claim that their product has not achieved sufficient market penetration and must be revived by the Artificial Resuscitation Foundation (ARF) lest the art form collapse from its own incompetence, irrelevance, and as a result of the general disinterest among the broad masses of the American People.

The motto of ARF's National Poetry Month is: "Poetry's not so bad, really."

He does have quite a few sour grapes and he is probably right - poetry for the masses will never be the leading edge of creative works as those are difficult for the masses to appreciate. I have to count myself right in there as I have difficulty with appreciation of both avant garde art and poetry. He might be right - but I do like more mainstream poetry and why be snobby and insist what I like is inferior. I don't snicker (much) when my daughter talks with glee about the burger she just had from MacDonalds!

I also found an interesting article relating to poetry was a critical article lambasting poetry critics for not being more helpful to the reader when reviewing poetry. Matthew Zapruder, in his essay "Show Your Work!" for Poetry Foundation, discusses his thoughts on what a poetry critic should do and how they are the reason there is not more interest in modern poetry. His views garnered a whole lot of comments from his readers! It was picked up by Judith Fitzgerald, a Globe Writer who added her 2 cents in an article today. Her point was that given the overwhelming majority of the public (43%) who consider poetry either "pretentious" or "too difficult" (as opposed to the 56% who find it "difficult but worth it" or "essential"), how do we get them to appreciate the poetry that planetary poetry month brings us?

Today, in American poetry, very few critics take it upon themselves to examine the choices poets make in poems, and what effect those choices might have upon a reader. As a consequence, very few people love contemporary American poetry. Many more might, if critics attempted to truly engage with the materials of poetry -- words and how they work -- and to connect poetry with an audience based on an engagement with these materials.
At least this fellow is trying to be helpful and suggests that if poetry critics helped us with understanding why (the critic) thought the poem was worthy - in either, style, language or form, us great unwashed might like modern poetry a bit more.

hmm, not sure about that...

I will end with a poem that I like which perhaps is not very well known. It is a translation of a German poem written by Heine called "Die Lorelei". It is name of a precipitous rock on the Rhine, dangerous to boatmen and celebrated for its echo. The story behind it is of the siren of the rock whose songs lure sailors to their death.

Oddly enough Charles Bernstein, who as I said above, dislikes Poetry month so much, was inspired by this poem to use it as a leaping off point for his language poem "Laurel's Eyes". According to wiki, Charles Bernstein is one of the most prominent members of the school of poetry called "Language Poetry". As I read in the Wiki entry, "this poetry is often alien and difficult to understand at first glance, which is what Language poetry intends: for the reader to participate in creating the meaning of the poem." Having read Heine's poem, you might want to listen to Bernstein's reading of "Laurel's Eyes" and see what you think. I quite liked it. I have included a link to it following the Heine poem translation.

Translation of Heine's "Die Lorelei"
I don’t know what it could mean, that I’m so sad:
I find,
A fairy-tale, from times unseen,
Won’t vanish from my mind.

The air is cool and it darkens,

And quiet flows the Rhine:

The tops of the mountains sparkle,

In evening’s after-shine.

The loveliest of maidens,
She’s wonderful, sits there,
Her golden jewels glisten,

She combs her golden hair.

She combs it with a comb of gold,

And sings a song as well:
Its strangeness too is old
And casts a powerful spell.
It grips the boatman in his boat

With a wild pang of woe:

He only looks up to the heights,

Can’t see the rocks below.
I believe the waves swallowed

The boat and its boatman,

That’s what, by her singing,

The Lorelei has done.

You can hear Bernstein's reading of his poem "Laurel's Eyes" here.

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