Saturday, May 5, 2007
Sarcasm and Sentimentality in Davie Does Dickinson
Much like Bryan, I was beginning to feel that these guys we’ve been studying—especially Fenollosa, Pound, and Zukofsky—were trying to strip away some of what, to me, makes poetry “poetic” by turning it into a science. The idea really appeals to me on one level (particularly in the case of Fenollosa) but then along comes Davie with another prescription for what makes “good” poetry. When he starts a line in an essay “In fact, I distinguish five kinds of poetic syntax, as follows…” you know you’re in for a long read. I was beginning to feel the walls closing in until I read Kasey’s example in his response to Bryan’s post where he contrasts Frank O’Hara’s verse with Jorie Graham’s. It really crystallized what I’ve been thinking for a while now—I already kind of know good poetry when I see it. I think Frank O’Hara gets away with it because he is being self-consciously ironic while Jorie Graham is being disingenuous (and, yes, calculated and maudlin). O’Hara is clearly having fun while Graham seems intent on manipulation. I can trust O’Hara—he’s giving it to me straight (because he’s so obviously being tongue-in-cheek). Maybe that’s what all these guys are saying about poetics, “just give it to us straight” but unfortunately it takes ten pages of mathematical calculations to get there. That’s why Emily Dickinson was so refreshing. It would be interesting to know what kind of “surgery” Higginson had performed on her poems and whether she took his advice or not (I kind of suspect that she did not). You can tell by her wonderful sarcasm and wit that Dickinson obviously knew good poetry when she saw it. She was writing what she wanted to write even though it bucked the conventions of her day. Maybe when the Fenollosas, Zukofskys, Pounds, and Davies of the world tell us how to write “good” poetry we can simply say “thank you for the surgery” and then strive to make our own poetry as fresh and as honest as O’Hara’s and Dickinson’s.