Wordsworth’s Preface to Lyrical Ballads

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Wordsworth’s Preface to Lyrical Ballads helped launch the revolution of Romantic poetry, but today it manages to boldly advocate traditional notions of linguistic reference. This it does by supporting the notion that words are properly rooted in real things, and that writers can evoke experience through natural expression.

There is curvy; there is straight; and all in between.
There is base; there is noble; and the even mean.

That itself is stunning, but what is more is that there is language for all of that, indeed, one would suspect, for everything. And why should that be so, in a world merely naturally evolved? The issue of innate power in language, and man’s central place in the world, by eye, by ear, by mind, heart, and mouth, are what Wordsworth helps us tackle through this essay.

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Asher Blake’s Statement of Purpose

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I want to thank God for comforting me tonight by giving me some insight into my portion, the still half-wild poetry. My poems tend to come easily, though so far they have value it seems only for me. I would like to mention a word of encouragement again to all writers who aspire to fame, plaudits, a large readership (and plus-strokes of all kinds). We are true artists ultimately only to the extent we really labor at the art. Let’s try to separate our sincere purpose from professional ambition. If success comes that is great, but as this Mission Statement tries to make clear, the creative work itself is a different enterprise and has great profundity even if it does not touch others.

These images represent both the positive and negative instruments of our art.

Dorothy Dehner Drawing

famliy silhouette

 

3 Poems by Robert Hayden

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Hayden’s Poetry Foundation Bio talks about his somewhat unique place in African American literature as a great African American poet who focused on race and ethnicity, yet nonetheless denied the limitations of a narrow label for himself. At least, he seems to be one of the first major black poets to take that stand so seriously.

[From the poetry foundation:]
“‘In the 1960s,’ William Meredith wrote in his foreword to Collected Prose, ‘Hayden declared himself, at considerable cost in popularity, an American poet rather than a black poet, when for a time there was posited an unreconcilable difference between the two roles. . . . He would not relinquish the title of American writer for any narrower identity.’ Ironically, much of Hayden’s best poetry is concerned with black history and the black experience.”

Perhaps Hayden’s crowning achievement is the longish poem, Middle Passage. It is gloriously complex and fine, with meaningful dramatic surprises throughout. It is also a grisly depiction of moral baseness set with rich, elevated language. I suppose it must be one of my favorite poems. In 1976 Hayden became “Poetry Consultant to the Library of Congress”, that is, our Poet Laureate.

Here are three poems by Robert Hayden in PDF: Middle Passage; a dramatic poem on Harriet Tubman Runagate Runagate; and a wonderfully even handed poem on Malcolm X, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz.

 

Sam Allen’s A Moment, Please

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Sam Allen (1917-2015) first studied with the magnificent James Weldon Johnson at Fiske, a black university in Nashville. Allen’s bachelor’s degree was in sociology. Then in 1941 he received a law degree from Harvard. He taught both law and literature on the college level.

After serving in WWII, then briefly in New York’s D.A. office, Allen moved to Paris, where he became immersed in the expatriate literary scene. Allen became friendly with people like James Baldwin, (both men were the sons of pastors), Richard Wright, Leopold Senghor, and Aime Cesaire. And through Wright he began to publish in the black literary journal, Presence Africaine. Mr. Allen also attended the Sorbonne on the GI Bill.

Sam Allen began publishing poetry and translations and writing essays under the name Paul Vesey. Here is one of his most deft and delicate pieces of his I’ve seen: A Moment, Please. This poem interests me especially because of the interplay between the two strings of speech. The one in caps at the margin works as an independent meditation, while the indented lines give a narrative. In experimental poetry magazines today, (really this is a centuries old practice at least), poets will sometimes give a poem that runs across rows that is also divided into two or more columns. However, usually the relevance of the phrases is much looser than in Allen’s A Moment, Please; and I appreciate the way that he chooses to build meaning through actual coherent syntactical structures.

In fact, the tension of the meditative column, which is vast in time and space, and naturally inclines the soul to a perspective of freedom and detachment, is caught and caught again by the needling humiliation at the hands of a few impudent teenage girls. The experience of being worn down by something constantly, unfairly, nagging away at one’s vision is thereby well captured. The technique of having two columns, to communicate two things in this struggle is thereby not at all arbitrary.

Old Testament Biblical poetry commonly uses paired expressions, in lines A and B, where B is often a recasting of the sense of A, but with greater specificity and intensity. Much of the time these parallel lines are contraries, however, or are very distantly or obliquely related. Poetry is captured here in some cases when the reader’s mind is not merely called to process the line’s assertion in terms of truth value, but expression A is pitched against expression B, and the contemplation mounts up, even makes us gape in awe, or stuns us, as we consider the relations of the terrain of the entire “burden”, that is, flow of prophetic speech. Parallelism is a technique which tends to provide depth to thought.

There is an incredible ability of the human mind to appreciate a vast number of things that may seem meaningless at other times, like one’s kitchen backsplash, or the West Texas plains, or the mole on a face. We can appreciate flat lines, even fall into them. But this poem contains a great height, (in the lines in caps), still almost undiscernible in a quick read, (as though the TV were on), such is the attractive force of the little pathos laden narrative. In poetry with paired lines and contrasting juxtaposition, as in Biblical parallelism, there is given a fair freedom to compare the meaningful values of the things represented. And so as Allen says, “a moment, please”.

The video below shows Allen in a short reading. Highly recommended.

George Herbert’s Jordan (I)

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Jordan I
by George Herbert

Who says that fictions only and false hair
Become a verse? Is there in truth no beauty?
Is all good structure in a winding stair?
May no lines pass, except they do their duty

Not to a true, but painted chair?

Is it no verse, except enchanted groves
And sudden arbours shadow coarse-spun lines?
Must purling streams refresh a lover’s loves?
Must all be veil’d, while he that reads, divines,

Catching the sense at two removes?

Shepherds are honest people; let them sing;
Riddle who list, for me, and pull for prime;
I envy no man’s nightingale or spring;
Nor let them punish me with loss of rhyme,

Who plainly say, my God, my King.

 

Robert Hass On Poetic Form

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On YouTube, former poet laureate Robert Hass can be found delivering a really mind blowing lecture on poetic form. His talk is very abstract, brimming with connections between evolutionary theory, psychology, the connection between stanza length, and Greek maths. He links haiku and the blues, and gives a fascinating brief on how the power of theater lies in its resemblance to a grammatically complete sentence. Totally anti-texting. There are good things in the video not included, but I invite you to read through the link here, Robert Hass Lecture Highlights which also includes some comments of my own. To just see the video you can look up “Robert Hass Sewanee Craft 2010”.