Monday, April 16, 2012

Dr. J

I love Michael Johnson's Overweening Generalist blog. He asked:

"When you first encounter a new poet and you read him/her, do you consciously look for rhythm or other melopoeic aspects, structure, vocabulary, imagery, or the poet's semantic environment? (The easy answer is "Yes.")

Or do you just read them, and let whatever impressions your get wash over you before you "think" too much about what's going on?"

I do not consciously look for rhythm or their melopoeic aspects, etc. I usually read out loud and hope. I do not tend to read many new poets, and it takes me a while to appreciate a new poet. I think of Bob Wilson's article on Ginsberg in Coincidance where he talks about the challenges in finding Ginsberg's "Great Bass".

I think of works of art as wells. In some wells I have found water. In others people I respect say they have found water. In others I just don't know. I have found solace in the poetry of Zukofsky, Pound, Shakespeare, etc. I keep looking for it in Spenser. Kenneth Koch and Frances Yates suggest solace there.

In reading a new poet out loud, I delight in the sound, if I can. I mostly read poetry for a fifth/third circuit boost. In your words, I "just read them, and let whatever impressions...wash over [me]." If I like it, I read more. I tend to become gluttonous with poetry I love.


  1. So when you open a new book of poetry, you always read it out loud? I have always read poetry silent, just as I do fiction, but apparently I should try a different approach.

  2. I find that when I read poetry out loud, the rhythms become more pronounced.

    Eric: you mentioned Spenser. I have yet to get into The Faerie Queen, but in the past year or so I've realized that work has a far bigger Cult of Scholarship surrounding it than I had realized. I was sitting in one of those quiet college town pubs around here and a really scraggly Berkeley-looking guy, around 40, was sitting at an adjoining table tutoring a high school kid on Faerie Queen. I couldn't help but eavesdrop: the tutor was so brilliant, knew the book so well, and loved it that it was infectious. I thought, "I really want to keep mastering my books..." Not so much Spenser, but RAW, Pound, Joyce, and a few others.

    I was thinking today about an anecdote you once told that was golden. RAW had given a talk and you were in the audience. He was taking Qs about conspiracy theories and Leary, or whatever. And you stood up and asked "Why am I alike a pot of porterpease?"

    At least that's how I remember it.

    1. Amen, Dr. Johnson. Reading great poetry out loud seems to me the best way to learn about melopoeia, that and writing lots of poetry (writing a sonnet a day for a year, etc.).

      I love Ken Koch's poem "The Art of Love". He calls Spenser one of the best writers on love, along with Ovid, Stendahl and Ariosto (as I recall). Three and a half years ago I read a bunch of books by Frances Yates, and she saw _The Faery Queen_ as a central text, the great Elizabethan epic poem. I have yet to finish it, but perhaps writing this blog will motivate me to read more Spenser. (After I finish Proust, finish my Joyce/Wilson book, etc.)

      Yup, I asked Bob that question when he visited Scottsdale Community College in 1994. A friend of mine told a reporter from their school paper that I knew a lot about Bob, so they interviewed me. I lied a lot and told them I had met Bob at a seminar Bob Dobbs gave at Miskatonic Univeristy on Modernisma and Sales (or something like that). I never saw the article, so I don't know if the reporter bought it.

  3. Seer of Cleveland, yes, yes, yes. I overwhelmingly recommend reading poetry out loud. In the 21st century I have occasionally fallen into the habit of reading poetry silently, but in the last few years I have gone back to almost always reading poetry out loud.

    Poetry seems more common than prose before 1600. During that time people mostly read out loud. Folk expressed amazement that Thomas Aquimas and Erasmus could read silently. T. S. Eliot wrote about the dissociation of sensibility in the seventeen century between music and poetry. Of course, reading silently, moving into a prose paideuma, helped lead us into the age of science, but reading poetry out loud can help us not to forget the past, to keep alive the sensual wisdom of the first hundred thousand years of human experience.

    Getting back to how to open the world of Pound and/or poetry, I love, love, love Zukofsky's book _A Test of Poetry_. I don't think the book mentions Pound's name, but Zukofsky has a very Poundian model of poetry, its past, and how it works.

  4. Hey Eric,

    A new question: Is there anything you can recall that you learned about Beethoven from RAW that RAW didn't mention in any of his writings? How is your project to listen to all of Beethoven's piano sonatas over and over again coming along?