Sunday, March 8, 2009

Old School, New School, No School

When I ask my son to be more orderly or methodical about his writing (or anything else), he often says, "Dad, you're old school." He goes to school, but when I see some of the work that not only passes but receives Bs and As, I wonder if it's really a school he attends or a pep rally. For several decades the same has seemed true of new poetry. It's not old school. It doesn't seem to have been to any school.

A good deal is incomprehensible. A lot of the comprehensible seems merely prose chopped up into lines. I often think I'm missing something, so to be fair, I try to read it as prose and see if any structure, anything that distinguishes prose from poetry or song stands out. So far nothing. Often the lines are little more than a notation to tell a reader where to pause briefly to emphasize a point. The most memorable of this stuff is memorable for the message or the humor, not for the craft. It's enjoys a limited popularity the way a comic professor gets student plaudits for entertaining rather than teaching.

German poetry has a tradition of short, pointed poetry. I offer a poem about poetry itself (among other things). It also helps explain why almost no one can quote a poem written in the lat 20 years from memory. (Can you?)


Somebody says: "of no school I am part,
Never to living master lost my heart;
Nor any more can I be said
To have learned anything from the dead."
That statement--subject to appeal--
Means: "I'm a self-made imbecile."

Goethe, translated by Michael Hamburger

1 comment:

  1. Yes, as I've written in one of my reports on a short book of modern poetry, if I am impressed by a poet's message, I am likely to be doubly impressed if the poet made it rhyme.
    I will not condemn all modern poetry, but it seems that much of it is an excuse to throw bits of emotion and undigested thought onto paper. Though the writer might find this outlet for feelings useful, it may not always be right to take advantage of poetry's ambiguous definition. There is still much artistic skill to be seen in choosing, structuring, and placing words in a pleasing way, and it would be nice for us to be able to expect this of a poet.