May we, at long last, be permitted to say, “We have had enough.” We are fully ready, willing and able to incur any predictable accusations of presumption, arrogance and contrarianism, but it is far too long that we have (painfully) withheld our needed observations on the subject of contemporary “poetry.”
We feel morally and aesthetically obliged, in the vital interest of literature and the fine arts, to remark upon an unreasonable and unscholarly tolerance and of what (even the self-proclaimed literati), tolerate as “poetry.” We, schooled in the traditions of Wordsworth, Tennyson, Coleridge and Auden, feel dutifully obliged to rail against the non-imaginative and lazy examples of what is often publicly accepted as contemporary poetry. Poetic art no longer appears to be the traditional fine distillation of aesthetic thought and image, but more often, amounts to a nihilistic display of pseudo-intellectual gibberish.
It appears necessary to state, that poetry is neither composed of half-masticated words nor arbitrarily amputated sentences and is not the unique shaping of partially expressed images; it certainly is not the impressive selection of remote and archaic vocabulary, whose evident purpose is to feign non-existent erudition, or faux poetic sensibility. Such ersatz verses with their bold pretense to serve as poetry unfortunately, seem now to appear everywhere, even, sad to say, in our “literary” magazines.
So, what is the authentic character of (proper) poetry, and when do you experience it?
Poetry is the magical aesthetic shorthand, the chord music of great thought or portrayed vision. It, like good music, is fashioned to evoke intended sensations and emotion by the diligent selection of suitable words, set in a tactical and artistic form to a suitable tempo. The poet, unlike the novelist, is merely afforded a protracted canvas on which to fully portray his artistic expression.
We, in our admitted aesthetic orthodoxy, subscribe to the classic recipe for poetry penned by the poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge; who observed that poetry is the product of (both) “economy of speech” and “word imagery.” Functionally, poetic metaphor is the vehicle with which this is successfully accomplished. For example, if we wished to poetically portray our uniquely beautiful and gifted granddaughter, in the Coleridge metaphoric tradition, we might choose to describe her as a “red rosebud on a clump of white snow”. Apt choice of metaphor, particularly in combination with its attendant visual imagery, can be fully savored in the true poetic tradition.
To slowly and enjoyably sip the sweet nectar of this classic art, a writer is mandated with poetic vision, sensitive selection of words, and sufficient familiarity with the contextual impact of tempo, syllabification and length of line. It takes the music of a Walt Whitman, and the images of a Robert Frost, to successfully distill this very fine brandy. Absolutely nothing less will do.