Quotation fun – Do poems in the midst of prose scare you?

Finally I’ve had a few moments to myself after the craziness of real life the last five days. So, what did I do today? Did I read a magazine? No. Did I watch Oprah? No. Instead, you guessed it: I read articles about poetry.

Today I discovered this interview of Ted Kooser in the South Bend Tribune. Now, I’ve listened to Ted before on the radio and read some other interviews so not much of what he said was new to me. Rather, something he said and has been saying in many different ways and forms over the years struck me again as being very insightful:

Ted Kooser wrote:
Prose is more hospitable toward readers. We pick up something in prose and are reading it before we notice we are. Poetry is rarely like that. When we see something set in type that looks like a poem, we have to consciously address ourselves to it.

I instinctively know he’s right about this. Of course, that doesn’t mean anything except I’ve got an opinion just like everyone else. However, I will admit a guilty secret that I think applies to this quote: I skip over poems when they are embedded in prose. In fact, I skip over them even when they appear at the head of a chapter in a novel or any other type of book.

For some reason, I like my poems to appear naked, on their own page. I dislike trying to read a poem and then somehow relate it to a passage of prose because I think poems should be respected in their own right, as a work of art. And they scare me when they appear in a mess of words, because then I must slow down and pay attention to the poem. It’s much easier to skip over it as I read the prose in my usual speed-reading fashion, like chomping down a whole bag of potato chips. The poems are more like very expensive chocolate: meant to be savored and appreciated slowly.

Do you skip the poems in books? Do you find poems more intimidating than prose?

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Quotation fun – What was your worst classroom moment?

In the book, The Ode Less Travelled, Stephen Fry writes the following tidbit about poetry in the Foreward:

Fry wrote:
It seems to many that while there is a clear road to learning music, gardening or watercolours, poetry lies in inaccessible marshland: no pathways, no signposts, just the skeletons of long-dead poets poking through the bog and the unedifying sight of living ones floundering about in apparent confusion and mutual enmity. Behind it all, the dread memory of classrooms swollen into resentful silence while the English teacher invites us to ‘respond’ to a poem.

To be frank, I honestly can’t remember a bad moment in the classroom, probably because I was reading ahead in the text while everyone else was snoring into their desktops. When we studied Chaucer in 10th grade, it was the most fun I’d ever had in English class. The best parts were the raunchy passages; my teacher read from the text in the doorway, ever alert for the footsteps of the vice-principal (a nun) because technically, she wasn’t allowed to teach such a thing in my high school.

So, what was your worst classroom moment?

Quotation fun – Do American poems lack substance?

In The Hudson Review, Volume LVI, Number 4 (Winter 2004), Bruce Bawer reviews the book Poets Against the War. This book is edited by Sam Hamill and features poems that speak out against the Iraqi war by poets both known and unknown.

The review in pdf form: A Plague of Poets

Bawer wrote:
Throughout these poems,the implicit argument is: Why can’t the whole world be as peaceable as my little corner of it is? The poets appear to believe that their serene lifestyles are somehow a reflection of their own wisdom and virtue; they seem to think they are in possession of some great yet elementary cosmic knowledge from which the rest of us can profit. What they evidently do not realize is that what they are celebrating in these poems is a security for which they have to thank (horrors) the U.S. military and a prosperity that they owe to (horrors again) American capitalism. Entirely absent from their facile scribblings, indeed, is any sign of awareness that this “blue planet” is a terribly dangerous place and that the affluence, safety, and liberty they enjoy, and that they write about with such vacuous selfcongratulation, are not the natural, default state of humankind but are, rather, hard-won and terribly vulnerable achievements of civilization.

Does living in a country where a lack of open warfare is the norm create a poetry of ignorance?

Is it wrong for poets who live in a peaceable nation to write about or against violence elsewhere in the world?

I don’t think so. However, I believe that such topics as war and violence in a poem must always be approached with caution and a sort of enlightened respect. If we begin limiting the content of poems to those things that one has experienced directly, it would restrict the freedom of speech for which this country’s people have fought, the “hard-won and terribly vulnerable achievements of civilization.”

Your thoughts?

Quotation fun – Do you save all your drafts?


The Hand of the Poet: Poems and Papers in Manuscript, by Rodney Phillips, Susan Benesch, Kenneth Benson, and Barbara Bergeron, is based on an exhibition (in two parts) of poetic manuscripts at The New York Public Library in 1995, 1996, and 1997.

The book contains an introduction by Dana Gioia titled, “The Magical Value of Manuscripts.” Here is an excerpt:

Dana Gioia wrote:
The manuscripts of a poem can be divided into three general categories โ€” the working drafts, the final manuscript, and fair copies. Each type of manuscript affords certain insights into the author and the work. The working drafts (or worksheets) of a poem reveal the author’s creative process. If all the worksheets survive, they track the poem’s development from the author’s initial impulse to the text’s final form. Many authors, however, discard their drafts.

Do you save all your drafts?

I have a file cabinet filled with scraps of paper and whole sheets of countless revisions from the past 27 years. I don’t know what initial impulse moved me to keep my drafts when I was a teenager, but after seeing an exhibition of Sylvia Plath‘s crayon scribblings at the Morgan Library in the early 1990’s, I began to save everything.

Go here to see what other poets have said. . .