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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sunday Poetry XLIII -- Harper's Anthology Disappoints, So I Apologize with William Carlos Williams

William Carlos Willams
Here's the biggest problem with poetry (2-fold): Primarily, there's so (maybe even too) much of it, and this is only exacerbated by the fact that its very nature undermines its potential to deliver its payload to any save the very determined few.

I sat down eager to dig up a few good pieces and post them here for your enjoyment.  I'd just come in from the garage where I found Harper's Anthology: Poetry and sat down at the computer.  I haven't gone through this particular anthology before (kind of the point, really, for bringing it in -- and half the impetus for me doing Sunday Poetry in the first place), opened the front cover.  Here is what I found at the outset (minus, of course, publication details and reservations of rights, etcetera):

           “  Colleges … have their indispensible office—to teach elements.  But they can only highly serve us when they aim not to drill but to create; when they gather from far every ray of various genius to their hospitable halls, and by the concentrated fires set the hearts of their youth on flame.
                             —Ralph Waldo Emerson

Well, so far so good, I thought.  I like Emerson; and some of my favorite literary experiences were had via college collections.  It was the preface, following, that gave me cause to pause – and fear:

           “  Harper’s Anthology is a series of three volumes: Prose, Poetry, and an accompanying Manual of Instruction.  The last-named volume contains a brief statement of general ideas which underlie the collection as an educational instrument, together with some suggestions for its use in relation to composition.

From here I went on to the table of contents and became so depressed I hardly have the energy to type, much less find a poem to share. 

Not that the poems in the collection are bad, but because they are the very works—maybe even all of them—that create a problem with poetry, at least for students, even greater than the one I mentioned at the top: Poetry is boring.

I’m not saying poetry should pander to the lowest common denominator.  Not at all.  I’m all about the … er … exclusion of those who … uhm, never mind.  Anyway, I like a lot of these poems, even love some of them.  But I don’t see how the editors who penned the preface could be the same editors who honestly believed they were upholding the standard set by Emerson, of youthful hearts aflame.

So, all that said, I’m putting Harper’s back in the garage.  I’ll be right back with, hopefully, something … uhm … well, not better … more, let’s say, appealing to the modern, casual reader.

[10 minutes later – and with Six American Poets: An Anthology in tow]

I grabbed it because I’m short on space and shorter on patience, and this book’s got William Carlos Williams in it, whom I love, and I plan to find a poem of his I haven’t yet read and present it here.

[30 minutes later – and I can’t post just one (dang! I love WCW!)]

Mezzo Forte
Take that, damn you; and that!
          And here’s a rose
     To make it right again!
          God knows
     I’m sorry, Grace; but then,
It’s not my fault if you will be a cat.

Short Poem 
You slapped my face
oh but so gently
I smiled
at the caress

Oh, black Persian cat!
Was not your life
already cursed with offspring?
We took you for rest to that old
Yankee farm, — so lonely
and with so many field mice
in the long grass —
and you return to us
in this condition — !

Oh, black Persian cat.

Complete Destruction
It was an icy day.
We buried that cat,
then took her box
and set match to it
in the back yard.
Those fleas that escaped
earth and fire
died by the cold.

Dance Russe
If I when my wife is sleeping
and the baby and Kathleen
are sleeping
and the sun is a flame-white disc
in silken mists
above shining trees, —
if I in my north room
dance naked, grotesquely
before my mirror
waving my shirt round my head
and singing softly to myself:
“I am lonely, lonely.
I was born to be lonely,
I am best so!”
If I admire my arms, my face,
My shoulders, flanks, buttocks
Against the yellow drawn shades, —

Who shall say I am not
the happy genius of my household?

I post the next poem, one of my favorites, only because it lends brilliant contrast to the one that  follows, that so perfectly follows in format:

From Spring and All
so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

Twenty sparrows

a scattered

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