Tuesday, July 29, 2008

We Googled "What Is Poetry?"

The First Thing We Got:

What Is Poetry

John Ashbery

The medieval town, with frieze
Of boy scouts from Nagoya? The snow

That came when we wanted it to snow?
Beautiful images? Trying to avoid

Ideas, as in this poem? But we
Go back to them as to a wife, leaving

The mistress we desire? Now they
Will have to believe it

As we believed it. In school
All the thought got combed out:

What was left was like a field.
Shut your eyes, and you can feel it for miles around.

Now open them on a thin vertical path.
It might give us--what?--some flowers soon?


Is poetry anything a person calling themself a poet writes? How does one come to think like a poet? By reading past poets? By reading current poets? Everybody is a poet. There's truth in that, isn't there? Say 50/50 truth. A lot of poetry is lies--though how do you know?

Poets like to talk about "their language." Holy Rolling Christians say they talk in "tongues," a strange language only their God understands! Maybe only the pantheon of proven poets, like old New Yorker John Ashbery up there, can judge as to what is poetry. "As we believed it. In school/All the thought got combed out:/What was left was like a field./Shut your eyes and you can feel it for miles around." I would have said, "Shut your eyes and you can hear it for Miles ahead." But then I am not a poet like John Ashbery! I mean, come on, you can't argue with John Ashbery and his fans about poetry! You can't say, "John, you make no sense; it's like you learned to write poetry in the New York City Public School system? And do we want flowers soon?" New Yorkers grow up on concrete. Trees and flowers amuse New Yorkers. Zoos no longer amuse New Yorkers; zoos and libraries! No one in NYC today gives a hoot in hell that they have citizen-access to one of the greatest "main" libraries in the world! That could be poetry: "Without a library I created my poetry/Bookless, unjointed, unglorified, undecimaled/Endless shelves of being and nothingness/Pile upon pile of words piled up and going to waste!/Leaving libraries now like fields in which when you shut your eyes you find you are blind to both words and flowers."


(A Translation of John Ashbery's) "WHAT IS POETRY"

by Jill E. Brown (April 1995)

Should we really call traditional verse with its ornamentation and
elaborate description poetry?
Can the acts of nature be forced into a linguistic box and then called
Why does one feel compelled to control nature by demarcating it with
imagery and lofty symbolism?
If it snows, it snows. We have no control over it. Forget about the
pretentious attempts to characterize it.
Is it possible to forget about ideas altogether (like I am trying to here)?
I don't understand why poets revert back to tradition when we see the
possiblility in new forms. How can they not see the inadequacy of
tradtitional poetry as we, the New York Poets, so plainly see?
It goes back to school, where they try to teach you to abandon
The mind is like a vast field full of life, potential, and possibility.
But they teach you not to see this and instead focus on a narrow
path of traditional bull shit. And that's all it is: SHIT. The
only purpose it serves is to fertiliz the field and grow
more precious flowers to describe in their endless
cycle of bull shit.
Way to go Jill E. I wasn't "interpreting" right--I thought John was lost due to his public school upbringing! It's funny, school to me encouraged me to go beyond it, to be creative on my own rather than on the basis of what I was taught! I hated school like I hated going to a white Christian church or rules on my deportment or criticism of the music I listened to...or! I loved college because in college I was on my own, to learn or not to learn, to learn about creativity on my own, back in the stacks of my college's great library! But then here we go with this library shit again. Yes, "the mind is like a vast field full of life, potential, and possibility./But they teach you not to see this and instead focus on a narrow path of traditional bull shit./And that's all it is: SHIT." Hey, Jill, maybe all all things are is bullshit! Even John Ashbery's poetry may be bullshit to some! Certainly, Jill, I'll bet you get bitten in the ass by the bullshitters a lot! You're mad and angry and so was John and Stella and Jackson Pollack, angry after a war that almost did away with poetry and music and art and culture--oh, there would have been Kultur all right, spelled Mein Kampf.


for The Daily Growler

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