Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Bad blog, boring blog

Most blogs about newly-published poems and current writing are bad and boring because most new poems are bad and boring, and trying to inflate them into subjects of real or permanent interest just won't work. It was always so. We forget how many poems have to disappear to create our impression of an era. Donne and Milton and Pope and Swift and Wordsworth and Keats and Frost and Yeats were not representative of their times--that's why we remember them. Elkanah Settle and Archibald McLeish--they were representative. But they wouldn't have been very interesting to monitor on a daily bloggy basis. Those trying to keep us up to date on What's New keep butting their heads against this immoveable wall.

It is of course possible to write sharp and funny disparagements of bad poems, but as a regular exercise, it isn't good for you, and it's wearing. And that's one of the problems with reading/writing about new poems all the time: you know in advance that most of what you're going to read will be bad. How can that be good?

3 comments:

Rob said...

Richard, I agree that a huge number of poems are bad and boring. I do sympathise with your argument here to a fair extent. However, I think a fair number of good poems are also written (whether they are 'great' like those best ones from the names you mention is never easy to tell).

I reckon that saying, as intelligently as possible, why you think a contemporary poem works or doesn't work is a way of setting forward an argument on what poetry at its best really is. Negative comments also contribute to this by excluding certain poetic trends and traits.

I know some people don't like this and want to tell me that everything's relative, that what's good to one person is bad to another and vice versa, but I don't want anything to do with that kind of assessment. I want to argue for good and bad.

This month I chose UK poet, Michael Hofmann, to write about. I hadn't read much of his work before. He's not riding on the back of any hype or trend, but I've been astonished by how good his work is - it's the best collection I've read in ages.

Whether what I write is of the least interest to anyone else is another matter, but that's not my main concern when blogging. People who think my blog is insufferably boring (I'm sure there any many of those) don't need to read it. That's the good thing about blogging. Readers may come but there's no circulation war and no need to please any majority.

RHE said...

But there is a price to be paid for remaining determinedly au courant. If you devote a high percentage of your poetry-reading time to the new and (necessarily) emphemeral, that is time you can't spend reading, say, Tennyson and Catullus. No one can live on the highest peaks all the time--or wants to. I read Elmore Leonard as well as Proust. But there's a limited time at the disposal of most of us; and ultimately every time I read the newest poem by Jimmy Online, I am not reading "Tithonus" or "The Eve of St Agnes."

The balance I've struck--and I suspect most of us arrive at more or less the same place--is to read what seems most useful to me as a working poet. I don't need to be up to date; I need to be productive; and whatever provides me the nutrients I require is what I should be reading. It's the Wonder Bread theory of literature. Builds strong bodies 12 ways.

Rob said...

I totally agree there. But what's most useful to me are poets like TS Eliot, Wallace Stevens, James Schuyler and WS Graham - all 20th century. Also three poets still living - Edwin Morgan, Denis Johnson and Tomas Transtromer. I spend a lot of time reading those seven and they all inform my own work in different ways. I do go back further in time on occasion.

I used to read loads of contemporary collections, everything and anything, which was good for a time. Range is useful for a new poet to develop. But not so much now. It seems more important to specialise.