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Author Topic: Judging Poetry and Integrity  (Read 65581 times)
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Bugzita
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« on: December 08, 2006, 12:18:28 PM »

Stanley Kunitz' poem "Touch Me" is one of the best poems on aging that I have ever read.

But it might not appeal to a younger audience.

Bugz
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ennifer Semple Siegel

One must always question wrongheaded conventional wisdom.
Bugzita
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« Reply #1 on: December 10, 2006, 12:05:47 AM »

Quote from: "Expatriate Poet"
Dear Jennifer,
   Why wouldn't "Touch Me" appeal to younger audiences? I knew this feeling before my voice had even changed, I had been that much in love with Ann Abrams (you see, I even remember her name!) and though I only touched her once in the most fleeting and innocent way, the thought of her body still reminds me of who I am!

   Then I want to know why do we both agree this is a great poem--and why are Stanley Kunitz's poems so worthwhile even when they can be so daunting--in the metaphysical sense, not the goobley-gook?

   Does it have anything to do with the kind of person he was?

   Don't bother to reply to that question--just let your thoughts swing over to my argument that the poet or the critic of poetry I want must be "good"--though I like Ed Dupree's word "credible" just as much. Because in poetry one can be a terrible sinner yet credible like -----------and------------and-------------, but one cannot be a liar or a cheat or a con-man like--------------and---------------and--------------- and not be infected by inflation, pretention and hypocricy. I don't think any of the latter types stay in the "great" category very long before they are exposed--or just forgotten.

Christopher Woodman


Expat Poet,

For the life of me, I can't figure out why "Touch Me" affects me so; I think it's because I experience it through my senses. It's not a complicated poem, but it's lovely simplicity cuts to the core and defines exactly the frustration of aging, given all the aches and creaks that slowly creep up.

I "teach" (how can one really teach a poem?) the poem in my Intro to lit class; very few young people understand it on a personal level, but some of them will say, "That's probably how my grandparents feel," and so I keep teaching it because Kunitz has a way of showing the reader, no matter how old, a sense of empathy on atopic that is too often ignored.

BTW, Jim Morrison reminds ME who I am.  :lol:

(In the late 1960's I spotted him on Hollywood and Vine and nearly passed out).

Bugz
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ennifer Semple Siegel

One must always question wrongheaded conventional wisdom.
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« Reply #2 on: December 10, 2006, 12:45:52 AM »

Many thanks for replying, Jennifer--I'd hoped you would.

I've watched Jim Morrison be worshipped in the Pere LaChaise cemetery in Paris--dixie cups of wine, drug paraphenalia, withered posies, scraps and love notes and bits of personal clothing left behind by lovers celebrating each other amidst the tomb stones--messing up the site or making it sacred, depending on one's relationship with that dead young man (dead young poet? dead young priest?).

So relationship has a lot to do with it, and relationship is the subject of the poem, I think, not age. The poem doesn't make me think about grandfathers but about Ann Abrams, how her seven year old body helped me to find out who I was at the very beginning of my life. And she will always be a sacred object for me for that reason.

(Horror of horrors, I don't mean seven year old girls attract me, or even 17 year old girls for that matter. For me sex is about relationship, thanks in part to such a good start with Ann Abrams (that's the event that is celebrated by Stanley Kunitz in the poem). I've never yet met even a 27 year old woman who could let me in to that sacred space better than my 47 year old +++ wife!).

To me the poem is sexy, not sad at all. I'm an old man, yes, but I can't believe young people won't be able to see that in the poem as well--and get a bit more ready to find it in their own lives.

Back to the forum--an expensive, detailed review of some poems on this subject could never lead an author to know the experience, only how to convey it a bit better (more words, fewer words, more music, less music etc. etc. etc.). On the other hand, if a particular reviewer does not know the experience in his or her own life in the first place the author will receive zilch.

Intellectually a trickster critic may talk about such things but the words are just air. A trickster poet with a "good" partner still has a chance, fortunately--for none of us are free of this blemish. But we can't buy a product that the producer can't produce!

Christopher Woodman
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Christopher Woodman
Bugzita
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« Reply #3 on: December 10, 2006, 08:57:03 PM »

Thanks, Christopher, for your take on "Touch Me." I hadn't thought of the poem quite in that way, yet I can see it--I can see how the speaker, an old man filled with sexual longing, is remembering what he had 40 years ago and actually relives it through his senses. YES! That poem IS sensual, no doubt.

In a book (memoir, not poetry) I have just finished, I wrote about that Morrison encounter. I still get a bit tingly thinking about it, yet JM was the same man who five months later, exposed himself in Miami, during a drunken concert. Talk about a disconnect! There is no logic when it comes to the senses and sexual longing, which is why so many young women end up with "bad boys." They fill in that baser side of us.

JM was actually quite pathetic, a young person who could not handle fame and lots of money--that (and the booze and drugs) killed him, and, yet, by dying young, he has become somewhat of a folk hero among the 60's generation. His voice still sends chills up my spine.

I could go on, but I won't--just to say that what Kunitz does in this poem what poetry SHOULD do for the reader. I'd love to see more of that kind of poetry published, the kind that taps into something personal within the reader (not just the writer). Of course, all writing starts as writer-based--we write because we feel, and we try to put into words those feelings. The good poet succeeds in drawing in the reader; the less accomplished poet fails, and so he/she must try again. And again. And again.

In a sense, all revision is a compromise between what the poet wants and the reader needs. Kunitz had the brilliance and talent to accomplish both.

Best, Jennifer
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ennifer Semple Siegel

One must always question wrongheaded conventional wisdom.
Monday Love
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« Reply #4 on: December 11, 2006, 12:03:57 PM »

Quote from: "Bugzita"
Thanks, Christopher, for your take on "Touch Me." I hadn't thought of the poem quite in that way, yet I can see it--I can see how the speaker, an old man filled with sexual longing, is remembering what he had 40 years ago and actually relives it through his senses. YES! That poem IS sensual, no doubt.

In a book (memoir, not poetry) I have just finished, I wrote about that Morrison encounter. I still get a bit tingly thinking about it, yet JM was the same man who five months later, exposed himself in Miami, during a drunken concert. Talk about a disconnect! There is no logic when it comes to the senses and sexual longing, which is why so many young women end up with "bad boys." They fill in that baser side of us.

JM was actually quite pathetic, a young person who could not handle fame and lots of money--that (and the booze and drugs) killed him, and, yet, by dying young, he has become somewhat of a folk hero among the 60's generation. His voice still sends chills up my spine.

I could go on, but I won't--just to say that what Kunitz does in this poem what poetry SHOULD do for the reader. I'd love to see more of that kind of poetry published, the kind that taps into something personal within the reader (not just the writer). Of course, all writing starts as writer-based--we write because we feel, and we try to put into words those feelings. The good poet succeeds in drawing in the reader; the less accomplished poet fails, and so he/she must try again. And again. And again.

In a sense, all revision is a compromise between what the poet wants and the reader needs. Kunitz had the brilliance and talent to accomplish both.

Best, Jennifer



Bugz,

Stanley Kunitz was certainly no Jim Morrison.  How dare Kunitz use "Touch Me" when that phrase was made famous by the scintilating Jim!  :evil:

A friend of mine just went to Paris with a group and she reported 'finding Jim's grave' is still the tourist highlight for many people there.

For me, Jim Morrison is THE quintessential 'rock star,' although Robbie Krieger wrote much the material it is assumed Jim wrote, and it was a small window of time when he was a 'god,' bookcased by his pre-LSD fat period and the post-'exposure' fat period.

Jim hated the crassness of his audience, and that's why he began to 'act out.'  He also couldn't forgive that he himself was crass.  

I like his voice, too.  Guilty pleasure, those Doors.

Monday
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Bugzita
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« Reply #5 on: December 11, 2006, 04:13:15 PM »

Yes, Monday Love, Morrison was first to use "Touch Me"  as a title, but Kunitz improved upon it.

And I LOVE Morrison and The Doors. When I'm feeling particularly raucus, I'll play the Light My Fire album cranked up.  :wink:

Bugz
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ennifer Semple Siegel

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« Reply #6 on: December 12, 2006, 06:26:19 AM »

Thank you all for picking up so wonderfully on all this--what a pleasure, and how much Stanley Kunitz would have enjoyed it too. For he of all people knew what he was doing, another advantage of being slow!

That's not to say that because he knew what he was doing in writing "Touch Me" that he knew all the dimensions of the 'truth' it incoportated, but just that he knew how to take long enough to let a poem tell him things he didn't know before he wrote it! For poetry only becomes great when it can say more than anybody who has ever lived could possibly know--forgive me for the truism, but a great poem never stops speaking, even to its author, and is never out of date.

Which brings me back to what I said at the end of my response to Jennifer's first post about "Touch Me." Is there a connection between integrity and great poetry, or can a charlatan dissemble it?

And what about the critic?

Christopher
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Christopher Woodman
Monday Love
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« Reply #7 on: December 12, 2006, 12:05:03 PM »

Quote from: "Expatriate Poet"
Thank you all for picking up so wonderfully on all this--what a pleasure, and how much Stanley Kunitz would have enjoyed it too. For he of all people knew what he was doing, another advantage of being slow!

That's not to say that because he knew what he was doing in writing "Touch Me" that he knew all the dimensions of the 'truth' it incoportated, but just that he knew how to take long enough to let a poem tell him things he didn't know before he wrote it! For poetry only becomes great when it can say more than anybody who has ever lived could possibly know--forgive me for the truism, but a great poem never stops speaking, even to its author, and is never out of date.

Which brings me back to what I said at the end of my response to Jennifer's first post about "Touch Me." Is there a connection between integrity and great poetry, or can a charlatan dissemble it?

And what about the critic?

Christopher


Christopher,

I believe Foetry.com hosted a discussion on the topic of integrity & great poetry once before, but it's a delightful subject and I can't help but jump in again.

Every self-respecting intellectual these days will tell you that a mass murderer could write great poetry (hey, why not?) but of course the issue is more complex, for we need to ask a further question:  

Is the great poetry produced by the bad part of the person or the part of that person wishing to improve?  Or can the 'mass murdering part' of that person write the great poetry?  This is what makes the question so difficult.  We don't know which part of a person we are talking about.

Another related question might be: is there evidence that poets get better with age and experience?  If it is experience which produces the best poetry, then it cannot be a matter of morals or integrity, since experience is not a matter of morals.   However, if experience and study is not the whole measure of poetic greatness, we must search elsewhere for the cause of excellence in poetry.

But one might say, surely 'integrity' knows no parts.  One cannot be good part of the time.  So if 'integrity' implies a kind of unity of character or purpose, then we cannot even talk about the 'part' of a person  who makes the excellent poem.  Can we really believe that Stanely Kunitz, who wrote that sweet, nostalgic, sensitive, delicate poem "Touch Me," has no identity, no character, which we can describe as good, which produced that poem?  Is it possible that Kunitz was some foul, corrupt character who had a small island in his soul which happened to grow beautiful verse?

How far are we willing to go in breaking up this inquiry into parts of a person?  How far are we willing to go in saying that what is 'bad' can produce what is 'good?'

One can see that is nearly impossible to articulate this logically.  I believe that good people write better poetry.  But I don't think I could prove it, especially since I could not prove what makes poetry 'better.'

We'd have to start asking what makes a poem good.  Bitter nostalgia?  Deep desire?  A nice combination of speech and image?   What about the moral content of the poem itself?  Can poetry make people 'better?'  Etc

Monday
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Bugzita
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« Reply #8 on: December 12, 2006, 01:31:01 PM »

ExPat said,
Quote
Which brings me back to what I said at the end of my response to Jennifer's first post about "Touch Me." Is there a connection between integrity and great poetry, or can a charlatan dissemble it?


From what I understand, Robert Frost was a cranky old man who bullied others, and yet his poetry endures because of its accessability across the board. And I'm not arguing for or against the artistic aspects of Frost poetry, just to say that "goodness" in poetry is not always an indicator of good character in the poet.

Within every good soul, there is always an evil twin struggling to burst out; within most evil souls, there is the good twin tapping on their shoulders (sociopaths and psychopaths may be notable exceptions).

If one accepts the notion of Johari's Window, one will see that aspects of personality are broken down into four sections:

Known to Others =
1. Open (Known to Self)  2. Blind (Not known to Self)

Not Known to Others =
3. Hidden (Known to Self)  4. Unknown (Not Known to Self)

Poets and writers (and artists in general) seem to struggle mightily with conflicts between good and evil and sometimes act in ways that befuddle the rest of the world. Their work is "out there" for the world to pick apart and, ultimately, to make assumptions about the writer or artist. The "ordinary" people can hide behind their anonymity.

I contend that the "first apple" bitten into was not an apple at all, but an expression of free will (by a woman, yet  Cool ), and the human race has been struggling ever since with the notion of choosing good over evil, so it's no surprise that artists DO exhibit a duality of character and that it's more obvious to others.

ExPat, please explain, "Can a charlatan dissemble it?" I'm feeling kind of thick-headed today.

Hummm. This is a topic worth developing, but I'm not thinking too clearly at the moment--I have an appointment, and I have to get ready. PLEASE jump in. I think I'm grasping at something...

Speaking of artists, take a look at Google's logo for today (12/11).

Bugz
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ennifer Semple Siegel

One must always question wrongheaded conventional wisdom.
N. Joy Vey
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« Reply #9 on: December 12, 2006, 03:29:28 PM »

Bugz, isn't today 12/12Huh

I only have this belief as I sat in the seventh grade math class earlier, and the teacher wrote that on the SmartBoard (it's high tech) and made a reference to celebrations in 13 days. Cheesy    :lol: Nomi
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Kimon Nicolaides
Bugzita
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« Reply #10 on: December 12, 2006, 03:44:59 PM »

You're right, Nomi: 12/12. I told you I wasn't thinking clearly today

:shock:

Bugz
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ennifer Semple Siegel

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« Reply #11 on: December 13, 2006, 01:38:40 AM »

Quote from: "Bugzita"
just to say that what Kunitz does in this poem [is] what poetry SHOULD do for the reader. I'd love to see more of that kind of poetry published, the kind that taps into something personal within the reader (not just the writer). Of course, all writing starts as writer-based--we write because we feel, and we try to put into words those feelings. The good poet succeeds in drawing in the reader; the less accomplished poet fails, and so he/she must try again. And again. And again.

In a sense, all revision is a compromise between what the poet wants and the reader needs. Kunitz had the brilliance and talent to accomplish both.

Best, Jennifer


Going back just a little to your earlier post, Jennifer, it seems to me there are two quite different ways that a poem draws in the reader, one when a poem, as you say,  "taps into something personal within the reader" and the other when it taps into something impersonal--some extraneous interest like studying a poem for homework or preparing to talk about it in public or being placed in a position where one is asked to relate to it even if one doesn't--as a critic, for example, or an editor.

Speaking for myself, when I'm alone and reading poetry for my own satisfaction I feel lucky if I can find one poem in 40 that truly speaks to me--lifts me, casts light on my condition, lightens my burden or deepens my joy. It's not that I dismiss the 39 that don't touch me as confused or superficial or clumsy, I'm just not interested in them at that moment, that's all. On the other hand, if you ask me why one of them doesn't interest me I could probably tell you, but my answer wouldn't necessarily be because it was bad, just not for me.

And how different it is when I'm asked professionally to discuss a poem or even just to add it to my repertoire. Suddenly I get all excited about style and imagery and provenance, but I'm not there anymore as a private individual, or much less so.

And it seems to me we can write in those two different ways too--we can write because we're in Iowa and we know what Iowa sounds like and want to sound like that too, or we can write because we have something tremendously important of our own to explore, a feeling, an idea, a connundrum, a love or a hurt or a haunting. Writing like that is better done alone, of course, but that's a luxury few hard working poets today can afford. If we're in the business of poetry, so to speak, the business of poetry counts. If we're part of a school, for example,  the school counts, if we need to get published the editor counts. It's as simple as that.

I don't think Stanley Kunitz ever had to write like that. Indeed, from what I know of him, he guarded his privacy very carefully, even when he was in public, and never made the slightest effort to fit in or to increase his popularity. And needless to say, he never had to compromise his voice or the content of his poems in order to get hold of a job or secure his future!

Finally, dear Jennifer, is revision really "a compromise between what the poet wants and the reader needs?" Do you think Stanley Kunitz was bothered by that as he worked for years and years on a single little poem? Wasn't he rather trying to find out for himself what the poem was capable of saying? Wasn't he slow because he had the integrity to challenge each stage of a poem--no, not quite that, not yet, not yet? Wasn't he himself the beloved, the intended, the only critic that counted?

So, speaking for myself, a spectacularly unsuccessful poet who is too old to get any material benefit from recognition anyway, the first question has to be, why do I keep trying? What's in it for me, what's the bliss in exposing myself to so many rejections? And the answer really is that I'm a poet in the sense that some people are fishermen, some people are beautiful, and some people are teachers. I can honestly say that my poetry always tries to speak to myself more than to anyone else, and that always, always I'm refining my voice so that one day I too may hear in it the news that's never out of date!

Christopher
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Christopher Woodman
Bugzita
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« Reply #12 on: December 13, 2006, 03:03:33 AM »

ExPat said,
Quote
Finally, dear Jennifer, is revision really "a compromise between what the poet wants and the reader needs?" Do you think Stanley Kunitz was bothered by that as he worked for years and years on a single little poem?


I do think that he had his readers' needs in mind, though not necessarily on a conscious level. Having said that, I don't think he "compromised" the importance of his expression--he kept his experience in the forefront, and the reader just has to take what's there.

Woo! I'm treading dangerous ground here--always dangerous to make assumptions about writerly intent, especially when the writer isn't here to defend his intent.  :roll:

Maybe I'll make more sense after I get some sleep.  :oops:

Jennifer
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ennifer Semple Siegel

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« Reply #13 on: December 13, 2006, 06:10:00 AM »

Quote from: "Bugzita"


I do think that he [Stanley Kunitz] had his readers' needs in mind, though not necessarily on a conscious level. Having said that, I don't think he "compromised" the importance of his expression--he kept his experience in the forefront, and the reader just has to take what's there.

Jennifer


You wrote yourself into a bit of a corner here, but it's a fertile corner, so that's good.

If you think of "his experience" as not the experience a certain Stanley Kunitz was attempting to capture (or reconstruct or relay) in a particular poem but as the experience of the poem itself, then Stanley Kunitz can be both writer and reader at the same time. And aren't we poets all like that, particularly when we're working with our hearts in it, not someone else's--an editor's, say, or a mentor's? At our best, don't we revise for ourselves, in fact, don't we revise because we ourselves haven't yet heard the true voice (or the message or the being) of a poem as of yet?

I can't ever remember having written a poem with the needs of an audience in mind, with the exception of birthday poems for children. No, I myself am the reader that has to be satisfied, I'm the one that matters. But I'm evolving too, and my ear is improving all the time, for example--so I keep going as long as I feel I ought to be able to hear something better than that!

But I stop when the miracle strikes, as it does from time to time.  IT'S A POEM NOW! I realize--it doesn't need me anymore!

Christopher
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Christopher Woodman
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« Reply #14 on: December 13, 2006, 08:07:15 AM »

Christopher, you're all right, you truly are. I'd love to see a pome or two. PM me something if you feel like it.


Best,
Ed
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