Thursday, April 30, 2009

Thoughts on poetry

Following the recent announcements regarding this year's Pulitzer winners, the Guardian wrote up a piece about the poetry winner, WS Merwin. It's an interesting article that's bound to make readers go out looking for some of Merwin's works. It certainly made me want to go out and learn more. But I found myself wondering: Merwin has received two Pulitzer prizes and I had not heard of him until now. I mentioned the newer forms of poetry a couple of weeks ago but I didn't really go into the "standard" poetry that's still around. You don't meet people on the street who introduce themselves as "professional poet". And those writers who do spend a lot of time on poetry often delve into other fields as well (quite understandably).

As National Poetry Month comes to a close, the lack of interest in poetry today becomes more and more apparent. My 9th grade poetry unit may have been my final, but my class was not exposed to a wide range of older and modern poetry. Instead, each student was told to find ten poems and put them on a colorful, artistic t-shirt. As projects go, not bad. But most students restricted their finds to the books the teacher left in the classroom, teen anthologies and mostly out-there poetry. In my own out-of-school searches, I stumbled upon Czesław Miłosz and discovered very special writing. But when I showed the poems to other students, they showed little interest, pointing out that the point of the project was ultimately just the artistic side. Reciting poetry required little delving into the real literary aspects of the poems. And I too quickly forgot the poetry unit, focusing more on the novels read during the year.

Ultimately, my own personal shame at not knowing Mr Merwin will carry on until I read some of his works. I've already admitted to being woefully uneducated in the ways of poetry, but I suspect if I had received more exposure to it, I might actually seek out poets, rather than randomly discover them (Miłosz, Sylvia Plath, Blake...). One of my favorite books is still an old poetry anthology from the early 20th century. Why I am not so connected to modern poetry continues to baffle and disappoint me.

1 comment:

  1. Merwin is a first-rate translator, too. From the Spanish Morning, a mix of early Spanish ballads and romanceros, with Lazarillo de Tormes as a bonus, is a masterpiece.

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