Tuesday, April 20, 2010


In L.A., anyway, (and I imagine on other NPR stations) a guy named Michael Silverblatt does an interview-the-author show. I tuned in for just a minute as I got off the freeway and pointed my Toyota (only going 35 compared to 135) toward the race track. MS was interviewing a poet, and Michael said something complimentary along these lines: "Sometimes when I read your work I'm reminded of a child talking before he's really sure what words mean."

And I thought, "So that's it!" I read a lot of poetry and some of it I like but don't, in the usual sense of the word, get. Some of it I just can't stand. Now I might understand why/why not.

A lot of the likable stuff resembles free-for-all, creative babble while the less likable has a manufactured, look-at-me-be-pre-verbal odor to it. I prefer to watch poets' minds at play, anyway, compared to concentrating on what they write. (And don't get me started about what-poems-mean!)

The so-called Language Poets have a political agenda; they think language has been so debased by advertising and "Meet the Press" dissembling that jarring juxtaposition and nonsense is the only way to reanimate language. Maybe they're right, but they rarely seem to be having any fun. While the kind of poetry I'm writing about this morning is usually very high-spirited.

Naturally, there's something in all of this for all of us: I'm a natural smarty-pants, so in YA faction I like high spirits and electricity on every page. And I know now why some competent picture books leave me feeling enervated. I don't feel a mind at play.



  1. Let's stretch that even further. Competent novels and poems and plays and TV and, oh, a competent medical consultation can leave you with the same enervated feeling. But a mind at play is a curious mind and that's like magic.

  2. The same goes for visual art. The best art is when one is not totally aware (and stifled) by the rules.
    When I taught illustration the best work was almost always in the sketchbooks and not the final piece.
    I told the students that they now get to spend the rest of the art careers trying to draw like they did before they knew how to draw.

    (though in favor of learning--I agree with Picasso. One must know the rules first and then they can go all wonky and abstract.)

  3. "look-at-me-be-pre-verbal odor to it ..."

    I don't like stinky poetry either. I happen to think all writing should be fun. Though I do have certain masochistic tendencies, so maybe I'm not the best one for thoughts on process. Hmmm. Never mind all that.