Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Cherry-filled Chocolates and Other Thoughts

The house is enveloped in fog, but I am slowly coming back to the world, even though it is not only 16 years since we have not had our dog, but almost 30 years since we didn't have the responsibility of another creature — now it's just John and me and the various appliances, services, and equipment that seem to be absorbing our night and day, sucking our lifeblood. Yes, we finally got reliable Internet (goodbye AT&T), and we're working on getting cable television, phone, and the like working again.

But I've been thinking about that review, that contra-review, that everyone seems to be talking about. And I've been thinking about various remarks friends have posted on FB and in their blogs: so-and-so is not a proper poet, they would rather walk on nails than read so-and-so, while others extol the virtues of the selfsame poets and applaud them. Another piece recently on Slate gathered the thoughts of various well-known fictionistas and asked them to confess which classic novels they have not been able to read. In that piece, Elif Batuman says, "My view is that the right book has to reach you at the right time, and no person can be reached by every book. Literature is supposed to be beautiful and/or necessary—so if at a given time you don't either enjoy or need a certain book, then you should read something else, and not feel guilty about it." This is my view too, and the point I want to make about poetry. I mean, can't we all get along? Seriously!

If I were to list the poets (past, present, and probably future too) whose work I don't care for, don't like, don't get, I would probably lose hella credibility. Let's face it. There are poetry gods and then poetry minions, like me. But while I do not care for Berryman (ouch!), I do not run around saying he wasn't a poet. See, I love chocolate and I'm fond of cherries, but I have never cared for those cherry-filled chocolates that many others adore. But do I go around insisting that they are not candy, that they shouldn't be in your box of chocolates?

Perhaps it's a silly analogy, but you get my point. I think there's room for you to like Berryman and for me to like Plath. I don't think the world will end if Phil Levine is Poet Laureate, as it didn't end when it was Kay Ryan or Ted Kooser.

If you don't want to read something, read something else.

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