Wednesday, September 30, 2009

`The Essential Feel Element'

One of the delights of the digital world is convenient access to poets whining that no one pays attention to poetry, which constitutes a virtual sub-species of poetry blog. A reader has pointed out a site operated by a putative poet who extols the people of Iran for their voracious poetic appetites, then asks:

“Can you imagine protesters in Florida after the 2000 [sic -- clambake? presidential election?] carrying placards with quotes from Mary Oliver? Billy Collins? John Ashbery?”

One hopes the people of Florida (home of poet-critic William Logan) have better taste than that in poetry. Now on to more gratifying poetic matters: Kay Ryan, our poet laureate, appeared at the National Book Festival last week, and the Washington Post reports some of her remarks. How fortunate we are to have Ryan occupying a chair formerly held by Rita Dove, Ted Kooser and -- not again! -- Billy Collins. With good humor and good sense, without pretense or politics, she champions the art:

“I sort poetry by the feel it gives my brain. It has nothing to do with gender. I would put Emily Dickinson at the very top of the list, however... People appreciate poetry for many reasons other than poetry. Like, they like the fact that it talks about God, or that it talks about flowers, or that it talks about horses. Or they like it because it's written by women, or by Portuguese people... But I'm interested in--I don't even know what to call it--the essential feel element that doesn't have anything to do with gender.”

Poetry, in other words, supplies us with a poetic experience, “the feel it gives my brain,” “the essential feel element,” as does Ryan's “Ideal Audience” (from The Niagara River, 2005):

“Not scattered legions,
not a dozen from
a single region
for whom accent
matters, not a seven-
member coven,
not five shirttail
cousins; just
one free citizen –
maybe not alive
now even – who
will know with
exquisite gloom
that only we two
ever found this room.”

1 comment:

North Fifth Street said...

"One hopes the people of Florida have better taste than that in poetry."

Why would one make a statement like this?