Monday, November 14, 2005
Reading through some poetry slush, a few ideas about my preferences as a poetry reader (and I mean “reader” not as someone who occasionally reads submissions, but as a fan, a recreational reader of poems) occurred to me. To my way of thinking, a poet has two main things to work with: the images they are creating in their readers’ minds, and the language in which those images are rendered. Certainly, that’s oversimplifying, but, to an extent, it’s true. For me, the images are of foremost importance, so I like poems in which those images are interesting, unusual, and set the emotional stakes at a high level; I like the language to be transparent enough that those images are visible. But, of course, the language in which those images are rendered is almost as important to me. I want to be stopped by the surface, to be beckoned to study it before I look, or while I look, at what’s beneath. It seems to me that many contemporary poets, one strain perhaps, is much more concerned with the surface than with what’s beneath it; the surface is opaque. I crave a certain amount of transparency, so I tend to gloss over, lose concentration for, poems with very opaque surfaces. But then there are poets whose language is so transparent that it’s easy to ignore the surface altogether. I tend to liken these poets to James Tate (though what makes the best of his work so compelling is the complexity of tone he is able to muster), and I read their poems quickly and never want to go back to them. The poets that excite me most are the ones who write somewhere in between those two extremes, in whose work the surface is arresting, though it gives way to images fairly easily, though the images may point me back to the surface and vice versa. Cole Swenson, James Galvin, Plath, Berryman, Stevens, Lucie Brock-Broido, C.D. Wright, and D.A. Powell come to mind as a random sampling of the kind of poet that tends to stick with me. Again, these divisions are too simple, but they seem to hold true for the poems I like best.
Posted by Craig Morgan Teicher at 11/14/2005