02 April, 2012

Another poetry review

Joanne Merriam, ed.

A second free e-book of poetry for my Kindle. Woo-hoo! There are substantial differences between the previous and this, however, as well as superficial similarities: The origin of the collection, the authorship of the poems, the restrictions places upon the poets, the size of the collection, all these are different; my reaction to the medium, my beliefs of and goals for poetry, these are similar.

To briefly recap, an e-book, in mine opinion, is not ideal for reading poetry, because its structure pretty much precludes the act of flipping through the pages which in collections of shorter lyrics (see below: This collection definitely qualifies!) is essential for exploration and enjoyment. The purpose of poetry, of all art, in mine opinion, is beauty, with at least an importance equal to, if not greater than, any other purpose that art may have. For poetry, most recently, for me this has been defined and elucidated by John Newton in Are God and the gods still there? though i have always felt, if not fully been able to express, this belief (look here for my review of Newton). This is not to say that there cannot be other purposes; there can. Nor does it even preclude poetry being “good” if it is not beautiful; but the response which beauty evokes is a guide to the quality of poetry. Much depends, then, on the definition of beauty, obviously. In a fine piece of circular reasoning, for the time being i am merely defining it as that which provokes this particular “good art” response, as it would not necessarily be productive in a short review to enter deeply into that ~ potentially very deep ~ discussion.

So then, on to the collection i have read, and my reaction to it: Did it contain true, good poetry, by my simplistic definition above? Sure did! Not all of it, to be sure, but which collection (of anything, i mean, not just talking about poetry here) can claim to be composed solely of top-notch articles? There are enough poems here, though, for me to be satisfied with the collection as a whole. There is a touch of irony in the fact that one i enjoyed is by Kamins, the poet whose e-book i previously reviewed, which led directly to my receiving this collection from the editor; i'm glad to point it out, and acknowledge that, despite the impression i may have given previously, i can and do appreciate some of Kamins' writing (actually, i wasn't completely dismissive earlier).

The very point of this collection makes it essential that the poet distil their ability into the most concentrated combination of image and beauty available to them: The title gives the clue ~ although i don't use the medium, even i know that Twitter permits its users one hundred and forty characters to proclaim their thoughts to the world. Merriam has set her poets a similar task, inviting them to write a poem which could (and maybe has, i don't claim to fully understand the concept of “on-line magazine”) be published on Twitter. The size of space available, then, requires poets who can condense themselves greatly. There are a large number of haiku, of course, here, and perhaps other short forms i am unfamiliar with (i have to confess, haiku are not my favourite form ~ perhaps because i have never been able to write one ~ though i can admire the discipline, the outcome all to frequently does not seem worth the effort), which is not surprising, as these short, descriptive poems derived from the Japanese have been popular in the West for at least the past thirty years or so (i remember coming across them in the Seventies, and one has to assume that at that time i was not especially tuned into the poetry scene); with the restrictions given by Twitter, one would expect them to surge even more.

As i mention above, the successful poet in such a form is the poet who can produce concentrated works, tight images, making the words work hard for their inclusion. One suspects that, for example, Homer, Wordsworth, or Eliot would probably not have thrived in such a form; on the other hand, it would be interesting to see what Catullus, Pope, or Hopkins might have done had they had the opportunity and tried. Each of the latter three had that way with words, controlling them, forcing them to express multiple meanings and images frequently (Hopkins' “Buckle!” in “The Windhover” comes to mind especially) which would have been useful to them in these Twitter-poems.

The poems themselves, then? As they are so short, of course, much of a quote of any would be almost the majority of a poem, which is not my purpose. A few quick lines, then, which call out to me as carrying beauty and evoking the religious response (see Newton; not specifically of religion, but of that type) necessary to poetry: “summer night dancing/tango with my shadow”, “somewhere,/a hawk, belly full”, “children shed bright jackets”, and “His smile...maims my Judas heart”.

The last example, while the words work, illustrates what is for me a weakness of this collection (and, to be fair, many of modern works), in that it is really just prose; no matter how lovely the words, there is a difference between prose and poetry other than the simple structural one which so many writers seem to try and overcome merely by breaking prose into random line-lengths. While i cannot define that difference, i can frequently recognise it: It is, i suspect, related to the “madeness” of a poem, returning to the verb ποιεω. Much of the recognition comes in the type of response the artefact evokes; while both prose and poetry can force an appreciation of the writer's cleverness, a poem does more; unfortunately, a number of entries in this collection do not take that second step ~ which does not detract from them. As a collection of work from a modern medium, then, i find that this is an excellent work, with much to be appreciated, from the conception through the execution of many of the works; as a collection of poetry, i fear, it is a little less successful ~ superb at points, prosaic or mundane at others.


Catie Eliza said...

Goodness, I didn't realise there was so much to know about how poems can be good or not and what they should or shouldn't display.... eek... I'd love to be clever, eloquent and insightful enough to write really beautiful poetry. :] xx

Elsie Wilson said...

Some of what you've written, Catie E., either is beautiful, or has the potential to be worked into it. Into the former category i would place your poem about your mam; it is one of the best poems i have read this year. No lie.

(I hope you read this.)

Catie Eliza said...

Why thank you. Yes I did come by, because I realised that I don't get notifications of you reply but saw that once before you had and I hadn't ever come back to see it. (well obviously I did, but AGES later) :] Have you written stories or poetry that you let people see? xx

Elsie Wilson said...

I have. What would you like to see?