A Segue into Poetry: FAQ about the Business of Verse

I happened across this article in Slate today by Robert Pinsky, who was the poet laureate in the late 90s. I was initially quite excited; the article, subtitled “Frequently asked questions about the business of verse,” promised some window into the questions I’m trudging right now myself. And Pinsky’s questions are good ones! Isn’t so-called “free verse” just prose chopped into lines? How come real poetry—in our great-grandparents’ time or, anyway, some other long-ago time—was easy to understand and great?

He comes at these questions from an interesting place, generally offering no answer except a poem by example. Still, the article rubbed me the wrong way. Pinsky, in the end, comes off as arrogant and condescending; if anything, rather than offering a gentle invitation into modern poetry, I imagine this article will only serve to alienate readers who are already ambivalent about reading poetry. The conversation does get interesting when you venture into what Slate calls “the Fray,” though. (Is anyone else secretly [or not so secretly] addicted to Slate, too?) While I respect Pinsky as a poet, and a critic, I enjoyed reading what “the masses” have to say about the sometimes taxing, befuddling world of poetry, and appreciated the attempts to hash out the “answers” (are there any?) to Pinsky’s exercise on their own terms.

So here’s my challenge to you. (I’ll be working on this, too.) How would you answer any of Pinsky’s “FAQ” about the business of verse? Perhaps don’t tackle them all, but rather one that speaks to you. My brain is clicking into gear as we speak.

1. Sometimes I see a poem in Slate or another magazine, and it doesn’t do a thing for me. Half of the time I can’t figure out what it means—what is that all about?

2. Isn’t so-called “free verse” just prose chopped into lines?

3. How come modern poets don’t write in rhyme?

4. How come real poetry—in our great-grandparents’ time or, anyway, some other long-ago time—was easy to understand and great?

5. How come American poets don’t write about politics or current events?

6. Aren’t a lot of contemporary song lyrics the real poetry of our time?

7. Well, I like poetry that is amusing, that maybe makes me chuckle a little. I’d rather read something reassuring and light than something complicated or gloomy. Is that bad? Does that mean I am a jerk?

Advertisements

One Response

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: