“Imaginary Gardens with Real Toads in Them” – Why Bother with Poetry?

moore toadThis poem by the contentious, straightforward major American poet Marianne Moore came to mind tonight and I thought it was worth sharing.
Cogently and succinctly she takes on the common objections and antipathy of the general public to the reading of poems that are any more complicated and indirect than “I Think I Shall Never See a Poem as Lovely as a Tree.”  The first line has stuck in my mind since I first encountered it many decades ago.
As Flannery O’Connor so notably said, “Art is not for everybody;” it takes thought, reflection and a certain intuitive gift to appreciate it.
Poetry in the Twitterizing-haiku hamstrung, Facebook friend age, really separates the sheep from the goats when it comes to the aesthetic sense and seriousness of purpose , whether the arts are visual, aural or words on a page (or on YouTube).  Poetry takes time and thought to write and time and thought to “get” and savor.
Nothing new, really, historically.  But Marianne Moore will always seem fresh and new–profound-as will great poetry.
Love this little defense of poesy and the phrase “literalists of the imagination.”
I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond
      all this fiddle.
   Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one
      discovers in
   it after all, a place for the genuine.
      Hands that can grasp, eyes
      that can dilate, hair that can rise
         if it must, these things are important not because a

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because
      they are
   useful. When they become so derivative as to become
      unintelligible,
   the same thing may be said for all of us, that we
      do not admire what
      we cannot understand: the bat
         holding on upside down or in quest of something to 

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless
      wolf under
   a tree, the immovable critic twitching his skin like a horse
      that feels a flea, the base-
   ball fan, the statistician--
      nor is it valid
         to discriminate against “business documents and

school-books”; all these phenomena are important. One must make
      a distinction
   however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the
      result is not poetry,
   nor till the poets among us can be
     “literalists of
      the imagination”--above
         insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, “imaginary gardens with real toads in them,"
      shall we have
   it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand,
   the raw material of poetry in
      all its rawness and
      that which is on the other hand
         genuine, you are interested in poetry.

From Others for 1919: An Anthology of the New Verse, edited by Alfred Kreymborg.

Marianne Moore

Marianne Moore

Born in 1887, Marianne Moore wrote with the freedom characteristic of the other Modernist poets, often incorporating quotes from other sources into the text, yet her use of language was always extraordinarily condensed and precise

About Margaret Jean Langstaff

A lifelong critical reader with literary tastes, a novelist, short story writer, essayist, book critic, and professional book editor for many years. A consultant to publishers and authors, providing manuscript critiques and a full range of editorial services. A friend and supporter of all other readers and writers. A collector of signed modern first editions. Animal lover and tree hugger. Follow me on Twitter @LangstaffEditor
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