Have unearthed a modest looking old paperback anthology entitled POETS ON POETRY (amazing! it’s still in print! click that link!) which I haven’t seen in years. Dog-eared (but not yet dog buried), it collects the landmark essays by major poets (and a few critics) dealing with the crucial question: what is poetry and why should we bother with it?
No small fry gabbers are included, only essays by those who helped define and refine our views of “poetry,” what makes it good/great, how and why.
An epigraph from that old lyrical over-educated cozzener, take-no-prisoners Ezra Pound is on the verso of the title page. Amazing to me how much we read, assimilate over the years and forget where the influences and wisdom originated:
As to twentieth century poetry, and the poetry which I expect to be written during the next decade or so, it will, I think, move against poppycock. It will be harder and saner … it will be “nearer to the bone” … I want it so austere, direct, free from emotional slither.
EZRA POUND, From “Retrospect”
I wonder if he was institutionalized at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital when he wrote this. He was in a land of dreamy dreams to judge what has ensued in the late 20th and early 21st centuries as regards poetry.
I do like the term”emotional slither,” though!
The contents of this little book are the creme de la creme, poet-critics whose exhortations about poesy are still read and taught, poets with insight about the art and craft, the real biggies down through the ages:
SIR PHILLIP SIDNEY, An Apology for Poetry
BEN JONSON, Timber, or Discovery
JOHN DRYDEN, The Author’s Apology for Heroic Poetry and Poetic License
SAMUEL JOHNSON, A Preface to Shakespeare
WILLIAM WORDSWORTH, Preface to the Lyrical Ballads
SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE, Biographia Literaria
PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY, A Defense of Poetry (*THIS ONE STILL KNOCKS MY SOX OFF, PUTS OUT MY LIGHTS!*)
WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT, Lectures on Poetry
RALPH WALDO EMERSON, The Poet
EDGAR ALLEN POE, The Poetic Principle
MATTHEW ARNOLD, The Study of Poetry
T.S. ELIOT, The Music of Poetry
ALLEN TATE, Tension in Poetry
WALLACE STEVENS, Two or Three Ideas
E.E. CUMMINGS, Three Statements
‘The history of poetry and how we view it is succinctly and passionately declaimed by these major writers in such memorable, timeless phrasing, with such wit and insight, that I fear this is the sort of overview our poetic dabblers, wannabes and stuttering-blurt versifiers could never plumb. So sad.
More on this soon:) Bottle rockets going off in my imagination ….