Tuesday, October 25, 2005

“Interesting” “Interview”

I liked the interview with Thomas Lux featured on Poetry Daily this week. I found particularly “interesting” Lux’s response to a question from Mary Karr: “You wrote in an essay that the last thing you want to hear someone say about your poems is that they are ‘interesting.’ Ditto!”

I’d have to agree with that, even though I’ve been known to complain that so many poems are profound and passionate and true but just not very interesting. By “interesting” I partly mean entertaining, intellectually entertaining, poems that give you that feeling of “Ah, I’ve never thought of it that way before but . . . .” Yes, I want to get that feeling from poems.

But I also want more, and when someone says a poem is interesting, that’s often all it is. I read a lot of poems that are interesting but leave me feeling that while they’re interesting enough to make a great essay, or a great op-ed piece in the newspaper, or a great stand-up routine by Bill Maher, or a great set of facts for Harper’s Index, they’re just not poetry. Where’s the imagination and passion of, well, say, Shakespeare? Where’s the fury of “Out, out, brief candle!” or the playful magic of “Where the bee sucks, there suck I” or the dark imagination of Cleopatra: “Dost thou not see my baby at my breast that sucks the nurse asleep?”

8 comments:

Beverly said...

Yes, maybe there's interesting and then there's profoundly interesting.

Robert said...

Yeah, it was interesting when I put papaya in a grilled cheese sandwich. It was profoundly interesting when Jesus' face appeared on it.

Diane K. Martin said...

Actually, though I know you were being funny, that comment implies that it's the what that makes a poem profoundly interesting. I think what a poem is about--papaya or Jesus--is not as important as the how. It's the language that makes the poem profound.

Robert said...

I’m not sure I agree. I think you need both the how and the what. To make a far-fetched analogy, having just watched Martin Scorsese’s new film about Bob Dylan, I’m thinking of “Like a Rolling Stone.” It’s a great song, but I don’t think it would be great without the music, without those crashing chords, just words on a page. The music (in my analogy) is like the language of a poem. Of course a poem is different because both the how and the what are in the words, not split into words and music. Yes, the music is what makes the song profound, but the words are also about something more significant than a sandwich.

OK, to go from Dylan to James Joyce and from “Like a Rolling Stone” to “The Dead,” when Joyce says, “Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. it was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves,” yeah, it’s the how, it’s the language that makes profound what could be a trite, sentimental statement. But Gabriel is talking about a very real what: love and the death of a young man and his own death and everyone’s. The what gives the work a foundation that’s solid enough to hold great language, like the bass line in a piece of music that allows the soloist to soar.

Diane K. Martin said...

Well, let's skip Dylan. I can't begin to separate things out your way--the music is the language but the language is the ?

I'd even refuse to consider prose in this discussion if you didn't bring up "The Dead," which I love to pieces. Also because you prove my point--Love and Death--the two most overdone subjects around are not necessarily interesting of themselves. A poem (or a story) is not great just because it hauls great subjects in. But the language--I could write a paper about that snow and that plain and the mutinous waves--I could.

Robert said...

Yeah, that "mutinous" is great.

Diane K. Martin said...

This just reminds me that I wanted to post about the whole idea of what a poem is about when we were discussing the BAP--but I got sidetracked by Dr. A. Maybe I will get to that post today.

If I'm not too freaked out by the end of October...and no, I'm not talking Halloween.

Beverly said...

Good thing you two are interesting, if not to say profoundly interesting. But really, would you love a poem without both language and content? If the content is down to the trivial (and small is not equal to trivial)--say, what your dog ate for dinner--then the language just can't work hard enough to make the poem more than passing entertainment (which is ok, of course). Unless your dog eats something pretty profound for dinner. Not that it has to be gnawing on human bones there, but also not Alpo.