Wednesday, April 11, 2007


On Andrew Shields' blog there's a list of seven poems that link to seven poems from Poetry Daily's poems for the week. In Andrew's "Poetry Daily Project," his class votes on them to choose best poem, and he accepts votes and comments on his blog as well. Any excuse to read poems is a good excuse I guess, even if it's a kind of "American Idol" type gambit. I'm pasting here my comments on the poems.

It seems the order of the day this week is to write poems as clear as good prose, as Pound advocated. The only problem with that: it doesn't make for particularly exciting poems, in this case. Examples are Shulman ("Fifth of July"), Bakken ("Portrait Detail"), Bradfield ("Industry"), Zimmer ("Suck It Up"). The others try something else: Shuttle ("Dukedom"), Wright ("Dear night"), Sleigh ("Blueprint"). My top three consists of Bakken, Bradfield and Sleigh.

Shulman loses out for some clunky enjambments and (drum roll please) "bayberry candles / of uncertainty." I really think this sort of thing would be flagged in a beginner's course, but when you've published lots and won awards and all that, you can be as bad as you want, apparently.

Zimmer is basically prose and, what's more, prosaic. That's the way he writes, and he's good at how he writes, but it never stands out for me beyond what a short story would do (I want poetry to be something else).

Shuttle tries something else, but just doesn't know when to stop. It's overlong, redundant, repetitious, finally precious. It didn't have to be. At least it is imaginative use of language (at times) but with some clunkers as well: "he ravels me into his dukedom's conchology"...

Wright also tries something else. One-liner poetry. "No condoms for the heart" -- and that's not even the worst line. The worst line is "for what's worth" as introductory clause to the stats on kids and guns. Rhetorically it's pointless in a poem that is trying to be streamlined and it also, I think, cracks the facade of the poem, I don't think deliberately.

Bradfield's is just an ok little poem, but because it doesn't try to inflate itself it doesn't do the pretentious stuff that others here do. And it's a bit more "interesting" (as in unusual) than Zimmer's slice of life.

Sleigh almost wins, for me, for pulling out an ending that works after almost ruining it with his clumsy re-cap of a Homeric moment; the fact that he comments on its ineffectiveness and makes that a way of getting somewhere else indicates some very real poetic strengths. But it's still too much in the "welcome to my head" genre.

So Bakken wins for actually having a subject and rendering it well and just making us think about it in a way we might not otherwise. For me, poetry is all about "as if" and Bakken writes "as if" that portrait detail were simply waiting for a poem to notice it. And despite its fidelity to form, the poem is as clear as good prose.

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