Friday, October 2, 2009

Back to the Future


It’s good to read old stuffRight now I’m reading from “The Limits of Poetry” by Allen Tate; his essay on Emily Dickinson currently having my attention and thrill.  Not only does he have wonderful insight in to poetry and to Dickinson but he gets the divine madness part of the writers.  So, read him.

Having said that let me urge you to return to reading criticism by the great ones—Cleanth Brooks comes to mind; contemporarily, look to Helen Vendler.  And how about Winifred Nowottny?  (Her The Language Poets Use is staggering.)  These critics can tell you more about poetry than most universities and certainly more than MFA programs.  To write, you must read and read lots and read lots of stuff that isn’t poems.

I read these guys in order to write better, to better understand what poetry is.  I think I learned more about Robert Frost’s ambiguities by reading Tate’s essay on Dickinson than in all the classrooms, seminars and workshops I’ve attended combined.

By going back and reading older critics, our poetry can better move into the future.  Also, by reading Tate’s essay on Dickinson you can learn how it is that the past makes possible the future or at least the present moment.  These are things of great import to us individually whether we are writing about Truth and Beauty or about the dead doe in the road or about the trip to the toilet in the quiet of the early morning hours at camp.

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