09 March, 2012

Some Poetry Present

Heather Kamins

    My first Early Reviewers e-book; i regretted being unable to request them for long enough, i was happy to be able to request, and delighted to get an e-book the first month i did request one. I am only sorry that i cannot be as happy about the work as i was to get it.

    I have to report that, as much as i have enjoyed my Kindle with the first books i read on it, both fiction and non-fiction, the medium is not suited (at least in my mind) to poetry, and i probably will not get another book of poetry for it (other than something like The Iliad, the Earl of Derby's translation of which i already have there). The reason is that, for me, a part of the joy of a book of poetry, either an anthology or a single work by one poet, is flipping through it, almost at random, finding something and being delighted by it ~ or at least given the opportunity of being delighted. An e-book reader is not a medium in which this can be done: It is self-evidently designed for the work to be read from start to finish, in as many bites as are necessary, but in a linear order.

    Enough of the format, what of the content? Well, here too, i'm afraid, i must confess that i am less than fully enthusiastic. The book of poetic criticism i have read most recently (review here), John Newton's AreGod and the gods still there? How poetry matters, argues effectively that an important part of the essence of poetry ~ all art, i believe Newton would say ~ is beauty; that beauty and our experience of it is in some way mediated and brought to our understanding through the religious. Newton does not argue that a religious content is necessary for poetry to be good, but rather that the response to a religious experience and that to beauty are related and, in some way, dependent upon one another. I found Newton of great value and interest because i have often, though without the fluency that a professional critic can put together, thought similar thoughts and been disappointed in much modern poetry. Feeling that lack of beauty, noting a dearth of response in myself ~ though not associating it with the religious response ~ i have frequently wondered what exactly it is that the poet thought they were doing, why they called what they had written poetry, when it seemed all they had done was write some prose and break it up into lines of uneven length. At times they appear to have wanted to stimulate thought in their readers by trying to separate linked thoughts or phrases, but this has always seemed artificial to me, and not in the sense of creating art, but meaning forced and trivial. I have, thus, been disappointed by much modern poetry.

    On to this collection, then. In Blueshifting i found some poems to make me feel good about the skills or talent of Heather Kamins; poems, in other words, that meet Newton's criterion of beauty evoking a response. Specifics: “How the sun remembers/its way home each night, into the sea/beyond Ia” (“Entanglement”); “You would have tried to call me the wind./You would have called my name, and then remembered” (“The Supernatural Subjunctive”); “Meanwhile,/you, noctilucent, breath beneath the quilt./How can I sleep/in a world so full” (“Insomnia”). These, it seems to me, evoke this religious reaction, the experience of beauty i look for in true poetry. Unfortunately, not everything here is of that quality. Some does seem to just be prose thoughts put down and then given arbitrary line-breaks, with no thought for beauty, nothing which grabs the reader and says, “Look at me!” “[T]he instructor tell you to leave half an inch/between the top of the preserves and the top of the jar/so the contents may expand” (“Headspace”); “Remember those days/when we used to lie on a plastic-strewn hillside/and look for patterns in the smog? When we first kissed/beneath the incandescent lights on a diesel-scented evening?” (“Devolution”); “Think/of all the beloved bad boys, the broken/girls, all the children/of disaster” (“Entropy”). Indeed, two of the passages in the book make no claim to be poetry at all, but are solid slabs of prose; i suppose i could be grateful that there is no attempt to disguise them by breaking them into sentence fragmented lines.

    Overall, i have to say that while i think Kamins evidently has some talent, her skills need refining for her words to grow more securely into the realm of true poetry, art, artifice which is created with skill to the ends of both giving beauty to a reader and creating a response in that reader; in this collection she does both, but only intermittently, and not to the degree necessary for a major poet.


Catie Eliza said...

I love a good poem, it's so satisfying and wholesome and often makes me want to laugh or cry, but because poems CAN be SO GOOD, when they are just frothy and nothingy the disappointment is great. My favourite poet is George Herbert. Have you read his poems at all? xx

Elsie Wilson said...

Yes, Catie, i have. I had to read some of The Temple at university for one of my courses. I'm not surprised you like him; i am, however, surprised that you claim him as favourite. He is by no means easy, nor modern. Let's talk, sometime.