Old Moon

Monday, April 20, 2009

Where Angels Fear to Tread?

Not for the first time, I'm wondering about the proper place of the critic in the scheme of things. This is after an afternoon spent listening to poets reading their poetry.

I used to teach English. I used to think it was an interesting challenge to try to get high school students to consider poetry (as opposed to prose) with the notion that if I could strike the right note, chords might develop so those young people could hear the music and end up even liking what passes for poetry in the common mind. In those days, I thought I could even suggest useful definitions. (I wasn't so foolish as to presume there was only one.)

No one who bothers to read about writing or even about reading won't have missed the bubble of almost universal interest in poetry and the writing thereof. That bubble seems sometimes to be about to act like a hot air balloon and carry us all off under a rainbow envelope that threatens the existence of good old earth-bound prose.

After the reading was over, I made comments to the friend who accompanied me about what we'd heard. We both enjoyed the program more than we expected to, but my friend was reluctant to make comparisons or to evaluate the works. As anyone who knows me will tell you, that isn't true for me. As I made disparaging remarks about one of the putative poets, it occurred to me that I had one heck of a nerve. Who appointed me judge? Sure, I'm entitled to my opinion, but is it fair to air it without authority? Who is authoritative when it comes to saying whether art of any kind is good or bad, other than peers of the artist? At least they know what skills are required, and if they don't know anything else, they recognize the comparative ability of someone who is doing what they know how to do too.

Does criticism as it usually is practiced do any good for anybody other than the critic who may be fortunate enough to be paid for his or her opinion? If you're a writer reading this, you know how difficult it is to find a useful critique -- and there's a difference. For poetry, the search will be even more difficult than for prose.

I'm not a poet. I have written poetry (that I feel comfortable to name as such), but I have no idea whether it's any good. I hope, like all writers, that it wouldn't shame me if anyone were to read it. With so many would-be poets out there, and presumably so many more who are poets, I can't decide whether now is a good time for trying to produce it, or so dangerous only a fool (or an angel) would try.

Two Artists
Inspiration gusting from infinity ignites him into blue flame:
Dionysus and archangels cry in the echoing vaults of his mind,
And he speaks with tongues and sails before those thrilling winds
Fair to fame and the Furies.

He searches blazing beaches for the shards of crystal thoughts,
And drops four chips for each one saved.
Summer’s waning as the stiff mosaic
Forms in curveless patchwork,
and early cold congeals the image—
Angular and gap-toothed, as the mortar freezes.

As I said: fools rush in....

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