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A site for exploration and discussion about verse, poetics, the aesthetic, and creative writing in general.

Because there is a profound difference between writing something to be read and writing something worth reading; and in that difference might beauty be found.

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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Poetry that Writers of Poetry Have No Excuse Not Reading, Parts 1 and 2

Poetry that Writers of Poetry Have No Excuse Not Reading, Studying, and Reading Again, Parts 1 and 2

-- minor edits and changes, Nov. 15, 2013

I began this list earlier this year on the sister blog, The Poetical Works of Alfred Tennyson Loaded Successfully. Unfortunately, you need only glance at the blog to see that my web attentions have primarily been here. (I never even got around to editing the little thing.) Since it fits well in this realm, I am going to bring it over here.

The idea is rather explained in the title: poetry that is as good as it gets in English, but which so called students of poetry -- writers of poetry -- seem to continually ignore in favor of things more contemporarily seminal[FN], like newest and latest from whoever's in what journal. There has been floating on the web a little spat of reading lists created by this that and whoever poet or filmmaker or scholar. This is my contribution to the ferver.

But I should restate the key point: this is not merely an ongoing Top 100 list of poetic works. The point here is that these are works that should be requisite canon within the particular field of the writers of poetry. At least, of those writers who aspire to something greater than conventional pop. These are works that open the doors to the high art of poetry. Their value is beyond the cultural or the literary-historical. They are works of beauty.

[FN] And by "seminal" I mean "poetry whose style you should copy if you want to try to get published in the poetry journals."

I title this entry "Parts 1 and 2" because the first five come from the post on Tennyson. The rest are here added. More will come, as they come to mind or to attention.

Ezra Pound: The First Thirty Cantos
-- Even the opening thirteen; even the first three. There is more to learn in the second canto than there is in all of Billy Collins. Really, Persona puts most contemporary poets to shame; but the opening Cantos . . . . come on now.
William Carlos Williams: Paterson
-- Arguably the greatest, U.S., book-length poem. Do I know anybody younger than I who has read it?
E.E. Cummings: Sonnets
-- I generally hold Cummings up as the greatest U.S. poet, and yet all anybody reads or anthologizes are his more experimental works. His sonnets -- and there are many of them -- are astounding, and on their own would establish Cummings among the all-time greats.
T.S. Eliot: The Waste Land
-- Yes everyone has read it in school. But then it seems everybody find reasons why they do not have to read it any more, and why they can dismiss it as merely acedemia. I fear the truth of it, however, is because it condemns their own work as mediocrity on parade, and they cannot bear the comparison.
Louis Zukofsky: "A"
-- In my own opinion, some moments are better than others. (I am sure I am not the only one to say that.) Some are magnificent. The first two alone should be enough to pull you well into the rest of the work. And much to learn from them.
Robinson Jeffers: "Tamar"
-- To teach you narrative poets how its done. It's not about the story; it's about the myths you create with your story.
Basil Bunting: Briggflatts
-- Basil Bunting had direct influence on most early- to mid-twentieth-century poets, and yet you rarely hear speak of him as regards contemporary poetry. Briggflatts is an absolute must.
W.B. Yeats: The Tower
-- If you are to read one book of poetry by Yeats, I guess I would choose this one. Though, it is the earlier books to which I run. In a future post, perhaps, I will return with specific selections from those earlier books; selections that are now for too easily dismissed because of their content.
H.D.: Trilogy
-- It is considered the only successful, long, Imagist poem. It is also a book length homily on aesthetics and the individual as opposed to culture. It is also possibly the most abused poem in English, with cultural and feminist critics constantly trying to turn it into a sermon on gender politics, a concept, and mode of reading, the book actually rejects wholly on its own. A note for readers: the brilliance of Part III is that it requires all that comes before it.
Robert Duncan. Groundwork: Before the War/In the Dark
-- Just get the damn thing. Learn from it. There is so much to learn from it. (It is a primer in line construction and spacing.)
Wallace Stevens. "The Commedian as the Letter C" and "Sea Surface Full of Clouds"
-- The latter is often dismissed as too ornate; but, it is technical mastery, and for me it rises beyond mere technique. But even as technique, it opens many doors. The former, is, simply, a requisite. But you should already know that.
Mina Loy: Songs to Joannes
-- The only successful, U.S., Futurist poet, and one (as far as I know) who fully brought the concepts of Futurism fully to bear in an aesthetic project. Songs for Joannes is her masterwork. To note, to get the most out of Loy's work -- which is to say to learn from it, to learn about manipulating style to and end that is more than mere 'flavor -- you should familiarize yourself with Futurism. (And, really, treat yourself to the whole of The Lost Lunar Baedeker. It is a joy.)
Robert Browning. The Ring and the Book
-- I throw this in here because it takes the concept of narrative poetry to its limits. Twelve parts, ten speakers (two repeat), all talking about the same thing, yet each part both in content and, more importantly, style and language is wholly of the character speaking it. (No, I have not yet ventured into Sordello, but it is beckoning.)

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