Monday, January 16, 2012
Here is Helen Vendler, an English Professor from Harvard, discussing an anthology of American poetry in the NYRB:
“Printing something in short lines doesn’t make the writer a poet; it only makes him a person with a book of short lines.”*
First I chuckled. Then I blushed. After all I have been writing my own short lines for a few years now, calling them the ‘p’ word. It was like playing violin without any instruction in the instrument, trying to paint without knowing the color circle. Yet it felt right, seductive, as if I were actually writing poetry. After all, the motive wasn’t to express an idea, or even a feeling (I can always cry), but to reach across the transparent barrier to the other side, where Keats’s beauty keeps company with truth. I was reaching for it in short lines with little knowledge, and even less discipline.
I wonder whether I resemble the first pre-historic painters, who tried to reach across such a barrier – ignorant of technique, but trying nonetheless. They felt perhaps a similar impulse move them, and tried scratching an awkward-shaped animal on a cold cave wall. How many centuries did it take from one such impulse to what we now know as ‘cave art’? No one will ever know. I, on the other hand, have it easy. If I want to move from short lines to poetry I should crack-open a book, perhaps even one of Vendler’s own. I hope that’s all it takes - muses make no guarantees.
*Vendler, H. (2011). Are these the poems to remember? The New York Review of Books, Vol.LVIII, 18, 19-22.