Friday, January 18, 2013

awful poems

I was at a gathering not long ago –the venue isn’t important– when I heard a soldier recite a poem. He’d been struggling after getting home, and small wonder: twice deployed to Afghanistan, he’d also been twice wounded, one of those times pretty critically. He told us that the poem he gave us had kept him going through several horrific ordeals.

I think the poem was called “Hope.” It was awful.

For all its clichés and bromides, however, that poem had been a literal life-saver for the man, so by what right do I sneer at it?

Driving home after that get-together where I heard the GI, I got to thinking back some twenty years, when my wife and I were sitting one evening in a backcountry restaurant. Apart from us, there were only three patrons: a mother, her adult daughter, and her son-in-law. The daughter had composed a poem for her mom’s birthday, and we couldn’t help overhearing it. That poem too was awful.

But again, how do we claim the superiority of “high art”?  

Such a matter provides much food for thought, no? I mean to avoid strong opinionation, to make clear that my judgments are that, period: my judgments, hence not ones with any special authority. So if I ask you to consider quality vs. awfulness here, I mean primarily to raise an issue, not to offer some pat and prescriptive solution to it myself; I’m far from convinced that one is available.

The soldier and the daughter poet moved their listeners, certainly, more than any of the recent (and to me inscrutable) New Yorker poems I have seen, just for example. 

What do we make of that?

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