Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Last year, Dec. 31st,

I wrote,

I am tired of reading bad poems and worse poems and, every once in a while, not-good poems, which cheer me up, because, though not good, they are better than bad and worse. The remedy is in my own hands, of course. I need to spend less time reading new poems online and more time reading old poems in books. The fault is not entirely with the online poetry sites I visit. Most new poems are bad--at every time and in every place. We forget that because history is an editor, and time has winnowed what we know. It is possible that were I to see as many brand-new Elizabethan and Caroline poems as I see Bushy verse, I should be as dismayed by then as I am by now. (I don't really believe that, you know.) But I don't. The moiety of those new poems lined pie pans and lit fires, so I never have to take them into account.

Anyway, it may be that too much brand spanking new poetry, read online or off, is not good for you. I need to find out.


Do I see any reason to revise that? No. Will Obaman verse be better than Bushy verse? Can't see why. The point remains that most new writing is bad. How many novels from the 80s do you remember? In another hundred years, how many will be up there with Middlemarch and Martin Chuzzlewit? Poems are no different. The more new poems you read, the more bad poems you read.

There are compensations. Reading new work keeps you in touch with the Zeitgeist. It gives you a line on the competition. It helps you see what is merely local and temporary--it's what everybody else is doing, too. On the other hand, you don't really need to be kept in touch with the Zeitgist: it's yours by definition. And your competition ought to be Marvell and Ransom, not Scuzzboy631.

Read what entertains and instructs you. Read what helps you with your own work. But keeping au courant is not an end in itself; and when it is, it's mostly a dead end.

Happy New Year.

1 comment:

Agnes said...

Gosh, Richard. Has it been a year already? It seems like I read that yesterday.