Sunday, January 16, 2011

`Never Milked a Cow or Goat'

Helen Pinkerton asked what I thought of Poetry, the magazine celebrating its centenary next year, and I said I’ve never read it regularly but its contents seem to reflect, with a few exceptions like Kay Ryan, the unrelieved awfulness of contemporary verse. “It’s really quite terrible,” she said, disdaining qualifications.

She’s right, of course. There’s a new and fashionable diversity to its awfulness but I defy you to read the January issue and find a single poem you might reasonably wish to memorize or even reread. Narcissism, tin ears, nihilism, sentimentality, pontificating, prose poems, refried romanticism, “the poetry of home-birth,” “Stars / are the campfires / of exiles.” What ingrown rubbish. Nothing written by adults for adults, nothing to do with life as I know it, nothing with music. These people seem to lead hermetically sealed lives.

As though for an antidote I’ve been reading The Selected Letters of Yvor Winters, edited by R. L. Barth (Swallow/Ohio University Press, 2000), where I found this:

“I am constantly being bewildered by romantic lovers of the bucolic who have never milked a cow or goat, who have never trimmed a terrier, who cannot tell a finch from a thrush, who have never pulled a carrot fresh from the ground and eaten it raw, who have never had to battle with a natural and impulsive love for too much alcohol, and who never got any pleasure out of a fight with their bare fists. These things and others loosely related have been the great temptations of my life.”

You’ll find little of that in Poetry, which published Winters’ “Night of Battle” in December 1946.

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