I hope your sister is well. Was pretty jealous to see your pictures from the Antioch workshop. X’s hair, man. Hipster. Same goes for Y with that hat lol.
Anyway, I got kind of into basing poems loosely on the pantoum, I want to keep doing it. I wrote a couple - one not so unusual, one where I added a fifth sort of “form free” line that just hangs out with the rest of the stanza, not keeping to any strict rules. I think there is room to play with that form that I’ve not seen others do, aside from loosening rules and altering lines a bit. But there’s room for more altering while keeping something of the essence.
I’ve read about 1/3 of Book of Ephraim, which is supposed to be a major long poem in itself, part of Merrill’s Sandover epic, and I’ve been happy that it’s typical Merrill style, but not blown away as I’d hoped to be.
I saw a painter’s work recently that I really like — I assume like most poets, you probably enjoy most the other classical art forms: Paint, Sculpture, music. Check out Edward Burne-Jones if you aren’t familiar (apologies if you are and I’m insulting or offending you!). His colors and figures are so striking, chromatic and dramatic - reminds me of Caravaggio and Titian with the refracting and flare of the bodies.
The Bob Dylan discs - some unreleased takes from the mid-60s I posted about on FB - is insightful regarding the creative process, the purely aesthetic disinterested making. I mean, he rarely shows much devotion to an idea (isn't "married to it") - a sound fragment, lyric or instrument, if he doesn’t like the result. He doesn’t have “anything to say,” just wants to drive the crowd wild sort of - the interest is in the experience, it’s impersonal, made up.
Have you read about the aesthetic response much, or considered the idea of “disinterestedness” much, heard of it? I think it’s kind of an odd expression, but probably best-suited to how I feel I should approach an art object. Not ask it FOR anything or to do anything i.e. give me some meaningful message or wonder “is it good?” and “why?” Just experience it - the effective ones ought to absorb us then, or grab our attention — at least, that much was stated in the Encyclopedia of Poetry, and I think Wilde and Keats have said as much in similar terms. Definitely the absorbing I’ve recognized in myself, I agree the disinterested approach is useful - anything less is obstructing my appreciation, I find. Also, freeing yourself from disinterestedness is robbing yourself of a beautiful experience and an easy way to cheapen one - "this doesn't make any sense, people don't talk like that, blah blah..."
I’m beginning to wonder if a sense of the poetic is a thing like a sense of humor. Some can produce a poem as natural as some “witty” people can a joke? I know John Ashbery has said he doesn’t need inspiration or any special circumstances to write a poem, it’s something he feels he can just turn off and on or tune into internally when he’s sitting to write. I actually can 100% relate to that sentiment - I can write poetry anytime or place unless I’m tired or not well, I just prefer dedicated time without distractions. Usually it’s when I’m distracted that poetic sense is there but the music is off…or when I’m rushed. Usually the ideas are good, but the phrasing is less than right. But I do think there’s a sense of the artistic or poetic akin to the sense of humor, in that both are just approaching things from new angles basically, so it’s a style of thought. I think I find that style of thinking comes easily to me - social thinking, knowing what to say in conversation, or how to gesture etc, that alludes me. So maybe that inability to grasp one way of being is similar to some people’s inability to turn a phrase or be funny? It seems so obvious it’s not even worth stating, still feels somewhat revelatory to me, embarrassingly.
That's the bulk of the email, aside from more personal stuff or poems I sent her.
I wanted to add a couple comment:
Proust's prose is really lyrical and enchanting, but damn are those sentences long. I don't think a common reader would like it, and I think in a "workshop setting" with idiots (whom generally fill those things) it'd get completely annihilated, especially by the people convinced of their own brilliance. Visit any online poetry forum to meet those self-satisfied sort of jerks. But I agree with some criticisms I've read of Proust - the narrative itself is simple, and it's really his beautiful explanatory or descriptive passages that enchant. Although his characters, too, Odette, Swann, are so deep and complex and ugly and flawed and beautiful - really exemplary.
Catch-22 was marvelously dark and subversive - another example of "rule breaking" that shows real literary talent can't be taught (can't teach funny), but can easily be taught away. Be careful who your teachers are -- if nothing else, that racist patriarchal canon is a good teacher for people who want to write in the Emersonian / Eliot sense, or Stevens, of supreme fiction, literature that creates or transforms. If you want to tell us how oppressed you are by X, then by all means, read 99 % of contemporary vertical writing (the other 1% is old nostalgic white dudes, then a barely traceable amount is real poeisis). Catch-22 was hilarious, scary -- it captured the happy-grief of good writing, the complicated and compacted mood of reality.
Speaking of reality, I find, that as Picasso says, art is the lie that shows us truth, and like many have said, poetry rescues language from politicians. Namely, reality can NOT be truthfully or adequately recreated by a direct, literal statement; it takes the figurations, complexities and compaction of art, fiction, poetry, to relay what is more like reality than literal language can approach.
Madoc, by Muldoon, is similar to Merrill's Sandover for me - I love Muldoon's lyrics, but wasn't blown away. It was fun (as he's said) but at times dipped into juvenile territory too often, and didn't flesh out the narrative quite to my liking. But it was classic Muldoon style -- I just would have liked to see some more narrative, or character fleshed out. Not to say Muldoon didn't do this, but could've more -- some of those 2 or 4 line sections left more to be desired.
Reading Pride and Prejudice finally. Jane Austen's prose is highly intelligent and accessible and lyrical even with, what I feel is, prose written at a highly educated level. It still, probably due to the characters, feels down to earth or like Popular Fiction. It's not as flowery as Proust, and it doesn't leave the realm of concrete imagery as often as Proust does, layering metaphor and descriptions on as Proust does. So far, I actually think the reading experience is more pleasant with Austen, maybe because she's not as challenging, and to be honest, her characters are not as complex as Proust's. For all the charm of Elizabeth and the way she transforms Darcy by virtue of her virtues is not nearly as fascinating and true to life as Odette and Swann's frustrations of each other; maybe these characters, Elizabeth and Darcy, have become sort of stock or archetypal after Austen? Certainly Elizabeth could be that "manic pixie dream girl" to Darcy?
One recommendation: John Hollander's Powers of 13 -- he ought to be read more, or spoken of more. His "Rhyme's Reason" is one of the greatest books - I mean, people talk of Merrill and Muldoon being virtuosos, to their detriment at times. I think Hollander was a virtuoso - it seems so natural to him, and his writing switches up style and varies itself so flawlessly and effortlessly. If you love poetry, John Hollander is great.