Anyone read poetry?

I think one of the most shameful things to occur during the 20th century is that Jewel (the singer) would have the best selling book of poetry if all time. I flipped through a few pages at the book store and the only thing I can say is a paraphrase from Oscar Wilde: All sentimental poetry is bad poetry.

Myself, I’m finishing up with the British Romantics: Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley and Keats.

Yeah, I read poetry. My degree is English with minor in comparative literature (yeehaw!!!) So I HAD to read this stuff (I chose the path less employed!)

My faves are (these days) usually pre ww2 / ‘postmodern’

Wallace Stevens is always a fave of mine. His poetry goes beyond the average fomalist poetry … sorta like a freeform ‘dadaist’ version of TS Eliot without the tragedy, at least in ‘didactic philosophical’ type poetry (though some of Stevens borders on solipsistic sadness, at least in tone, but he writes from so many different pov’s…)

and then Neruda, Lorca, Mayakovsky, Baudelaire, Blake, Hopkins, Shakespeare, Poe. Crane, Dickinson… ah too many to mention.

And the English Romantics are pretty good. I thikn Blake is the best of em, though he was completely insular from the rest of the crowd at the time. Wordsworth I’ve started to really ‘get’ more I read him now that I’m so much more mature… :roll: but something about Wordsworth and memory and innocecne and experience… it still rings true today. Keats is so muscular to read for me. He’s like the Romantic version of Pope/Marlowe. If I had to choose though, I think I’d choose Wordsworth for the fact that even though he became conservative later in his poetry, his personal ‘romantic’ notions of self and nature and whatnut, still hold true today. Blake I read for ‘philosophical’ thinking. Songs of Innocence and Experience is AWESOME! I still get multiple meaning on something as popular like Tyger Tyger…

One thing I love about ‘classic’ poetry is I don;'t have to figure out if its worth reading. I already know it has something to offer… generally because older critics have already done the work of deeming it ‘good’. I’m just too lazy to read newer poets… its my probelm… i know, i know.


“No more rhyming. And I mean it!!!”

“Anybody want a peanut?”

Sorry. Couldn’t resist. :lol:

“And Wordsworth, in a rather long Excursion
(I think the quarto holds five hundred pages),
Has given a sample from the vasty version
Of his new system to perplex the sages;
'T is poetry – at least by his assertion,
And may appear so when the dog-star rages –
And he who understands it would be able
To add a story to the Tower of Babel.”

The other day I grabbed the Wallace Stevens book I own (“Palm at the End of the Mind”) and read a few, including my all-time favorite, “The Man on the Dump”. What I really like is that Stevens is just so quirky. I mean, he goes from philosophical and sometimes totally obscure to playful and silly in the course of one stanza. Beautiful stuff. If you haven’t read the Man on the Dump, well… read it:

As for the Romantics, Blake is definitely the most intriguing. But I think perhaps the greatest wordsmith of the Romantic period has to be Keats. Holy mackeral… he could pick the right word every time. Too bad his theme was almost always the same. Good theme, though.

The other highlight of Romantic poetry: Ozymandius by Shelley. Yummy.

Sunday Morning by Stevens is a good athiesthic poem.

I hate insurance peddlers, though, so I try not to read Stevens. I’m also tired of parodies of Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.

“Keats is so muscular to read for me”

It’s interesting that you would say that. My Romantics Professor from way back when always taught Wordsworth as a masculine poet of nature (the domination of nature with the self/mind) and Keats as a feminine poet of nature (the self as part of nature).[/quote]

I meant the language and words by Keats is muscular in its usage. Not biographically. Maybe the wrong word to use… more like Baroque I guess.

Anyway, I love Stevens! Yeah he was an insurance man, Vice President actually. But I dont care. There’s just something about his ruminations and sonambulations that speak weirdly. Its like hes getting at something beyond mere poetry… thats just me though. 13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird is just one of his poems about reality and death (imo). Sorta like the way painters like Monet? did the same subject at differnt times of the year?

And with Wordsworth, he is a bit boring later. His poetry after he turned arnd 35 gets very very conservative. But his early to early middle stuff is great in that theres a purity in his ideas and relates to how he writes it… imo. Coleridhe also got more conservative and boring as well. I think it was Baudelaire who got the gist of the best parts of the Enlgish romantics
but then turned it around and turned it into sensual depraved poetry about evil flowers! I like Baudelaire more than any other English romantics btw…


I can’t really get into 20th century poetry (with a couple of exceptions, i.e. Prufrock, some Yeats), but I enjoy the Romantics and of course Shakespeare.

My favorite poem at the moment is Yeats’ “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death.” Other favorites of mine over the years have been: Keats’ “Ode on Melancholy”; Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan”; and when I was younger, Poe’s “The Raven.”

It’s maybe not technically a poem (not a self-contained one anyway), but the description of Ophelia’s death in “Hamlet” is one of my favorite pieces of verse as well.

There is so much terrific contemporary poetry that is easy to get. It’s a shame that by the time we come out of school we’ve learned to hate poetry because teachers have no idea what’s out there or how to teach it. There’s great and fun stuff like this:

Selecting a Reader

by Ted Kooser

First, I would have her be beautiful,
and walking carefully up on my poetry
at the loneliest moment of an afternoon,
her hair still damp at the neck
from washing it. She should be wearing
a raincoat, an old one, dirty
from not having money enough for the cleaners.
She will take out her glasses, and there
in the bookstore, she will thumb
over my poems, then put the book back
up on its shelf. She will say to herself,
“For that kind of money, I can get
my raincoat cleaned.” And she will.

Or these two, both by David Lee:

Loading a Boar

We were loading a boar, a goddam mean big sonofabitch and he jumped out of the pickup four times and tore out my stockracks and rooted me in the stomach and I fell down and he bit John on the knee and he thought it was broken and so did I and the boar stood over in the far corner of the pen and watched us and John and I just sat there tired and Jan laughed and brought us a beer and I said, “John it aint worth it, nothing’s going right and I’m feeling half dead and haven’t wrote a poem in ages and I’m ready to quit it all,” and John said, “shit, young feller, you aint got started yet and the reason’s cause you trying to do it outside yourself and aint looking in and if you wanna by god write pomes you gotta write pomes about what you know and not about the rest and you can write about pigs and that boar and Jan and you and me and the rest and there aint no way you’re gonna quit,” and we drank beer and smoked, all three of us, and finally loaded that mean bastard and drove home and unloaded him and he bit me again and I went in the house and got out my paper and pencils and started writing and found out John he was right.


So Aeneas walked up the Tiber until he found
a sow
she had a litter of thirty pigs
and he knew it was a sign
that would be the place

Where’d he go to get a boar?

No, it was a myth.

But where’d he get his boar?

He didn’t. He killed the sow on the site
and sacrificed
her to the gods for marking the place

You goddam stupid sonofabitch how come you telling me stories
like that I’m busy I haven’t got no time to listen to that
horseshit you go get in your car and go on home and find you
another book to read and you tell him next time call me I’ll
make it right with god and him both you tell him a sow hog has
thirty pigs I’ll trade him my pickup straight acrost sight unseen
but I don’t want to hear it now I got work to do who wrote that
damn book he must of lived in New York City his whole life in
a whorehouse somewhere just go on I ain’t listening to no more
writing like that I don’t need it you tell him if he doesn’t
know nothing about pigs then don’t write about pigs he should find something else that’s all

Since when did taking a descriptive paragraph and breaking it in funny places so it runs vertically become poetry?

Don’t get me wrong. There is good modern poetry out there. Still, the prevailing model of free verse is little more than chopping up prose. There is no sense of rhythm or sound, or even repetition for emphasis.

In the shed every one was ready,
and only awaited the order to start.
The sick soldier,
pale and
thin with
dark shadows round his eyes,
alone sat in his place
and not dressed.

Line breaks are everything in free verse. You don’t have to have a metered line to have rhythm. And just as anyone can point at a lot of bad free verse and complain about a lack of a sense of a line, I can point at centuries of bad formal verse.

To describe the prevailing model of free verse as chopping up sentences isn’t accurate. Good free verse has a rhythm and exploits the tension between the line and the sentence.

I agree, Mark, that good free verse uses the line breaks in an important manner. But the prevalence of bad to medicore free verse out there tells me that not everyone knows this.

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see the big deal with a guy like William Carlos Williams:

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

It’s a pretty picture, sure, but I don’t see what’s gained by the 3/1 word ratio per line. It would make a great opening sentence for a novel, but the poem version leaves me cold - and this is one of Williams’ major works. Poetry should offer something very different from prose.

I’m no philistine arguing that poetry needs rhymes or regular metre. That poem you cited above works because the choice of words and lack of punctuation forces a reading that is hurried and breathless and a little crude - perfect for the poem. TS Eliot pulls off free verse better than just about anyone. But the complete victory of free verse over “traditional” poetry has left little room for true creativity in the structure of poetic language.

This thread is getting way too highfalutin’, what with all you literati swanning about in your ruffly pirate shirts. Here’s some REAL poetry:

“The Llama”, by Odgen Nash

The one-l lama,
He’s a priest.
The two-l llama,
He’s a beast.
And I will bet
A silk pajama
There isn’t any
Three-l lllama.

Narrative poetry has never done much for me. It just seems like chopped-up prose that assumes some sort of false greater meaning because we can swallow lines whole instead of going through a paragraph to read them. There’s something lazy about it. Take those examples that Mark quoted, format them into regular paragraphs, and you’ve got mediocre regular paragraphs.

I think this one’s cute:

A Life

In a sense.
In no sense!

What that it?
Was that it?
Was that it?

That was it.

-Howard Nemerov

“I’m no philistine arguing that poetry needs rhymes or regular metre. That poem you cited above works because the choice of words and lack of punctuation forces a reading that is hurried and breathless and a little crude - perfect for the poem. TS Eliot pulls off free verse better than just about anyone. But the complete victory of free verse over “traditional” poetry has left little room for true creativity in the structure of poetic language.”

There’s still plenty of formal verse being written. Dana Gioa champions form, for one. Someone cited the late Howard Nemorov. He wrote lots of formal verse. You just have to be tuned into the contemporary poetry scene to know what’s out there, and by tuned in I mean you have to be an avid reader of the stuff.

But the real victory is that the 20th century has clobbered poetry. It doesn’t matter anymore. No one reads it. It doesn’t sell. It’s become more marginalized than ever. And lest you attribute this to free verse being prevalent, it’s not like the formal poets sell any better, old ones or new. People just aren’t interested anymore.

Poets read poets. Poets by the books of other poets. It’s a tiny pond made up of more poets than non-poets.

The Rhyme Of The Ancient Marinara, by Sparky

Spaghetti sauce. The stuff that’s red.
There’s a jar in the back, by the faux-butter spread.
The label sports Paul Newman’s head
Somehow his smile brings naught but dread…
…recalling when 'twas opened last.
A week ago? A fortnight past?
A peek within provides no clue.
It looks like sauces always do.

But something tells me it’s not fresh
Too cloying, rancid…like John Tesh.
The blackish stuff around the rim
I must confess – is looking grim.

No date is marked, no expiration
Sheds light upon my situation.
Perhaps a lab could carbon-date it?
What the hell, oh well –
I ate it.

Hey Asher, I liked those David Lee poems. Pretty funny. If you look closer at it, its actually a comment on the low brow vs high brow (writing what you know, and writing from tradition)… i think, like nobody gives a shit about some Illiad, but can still write about something. Then the second poem ‘culture’ reinforces the first poem, about how our culture IS about what we know…! The poem has a Faulkner stream of conscious tone. Tying an old epic to the modern blue collar or sumtin?

No really, where can I get some more of David Lee? They sound good, and its funny and it makes a statement without preaching! I think…


I liked the rip Sparky, but I’m pretty sure that Coleridge is rolling in his grave.