Tuesday, December 21, 2010

What's with 21st century poets?

In my last post I mentioned the 'hope' of the judge who awarded me second place in the recent League of Utah Writers rhymed poetry contest - as well as my reaction to his comment.
Why, you ask, would I be uninterested in 'modern' poetry? 
Good question.
I suppose the initial reason is that I hold poets such as Wordsworth and Shelley in reverent esteem. From the time I entered grade school until the day I graduated from the eighth grade I memorized and recited a poem each Friday as part of my English Language class. Each student in our little one-roomed country school did the same. Because of that requirement, I became familiar with everything from doggerel verse:
(There was a lady
Loved a swine.
Wilt thou be mine?"
Can't remember the stanzas that followed but the mental image of a woman declaring undying amour to a snorting swine tickled my fancy then and has ever since.)

to the rhythmic refrains of Edgar Allen Poe:
(Hear the sledges with the bells - 
Silver bells!
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!
While the stars that oversprinkle
All the heavens seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells - 
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.)

to the immortal poetry of Longfellow:
   ( By the shores of Gitche Gumee, 
By the shining Big-Sea-Water, 
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis, 
Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis. 
Dark behind it rose the forest, 
Rose the black and gloomy pine-trees, 
Rose the firs with cones upon them; 
Bright before it beat the water, 
Beat the clear and sunny water, 
Beat the shining Big-Sea-Water. )

and the beautiful imagery of Robert W. Service:

(There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.)

I loved poetry then and I still do but I find myself totally unable to understand the rhythms and nuances of modern poetry.  Much of it doesn't make a lot of sense and even when it does, I find myself completely uninterested in the themes so often used by my contemporaries.

Several years ago, when I was a member, I attended a workshop in writing poetry sponsored by a nearby chapter of the Utah Poets' Society. The presenter - a poetry professor from a local college - read her favorite composition glorifying sex in every way she could think of and ending with the sentiment that, if there wasn't sex in heaven she wasn't going there.
TMI imho!
I don't care to know all about someone else's sex life. That's their business. I have my own to take care of, thank you very much. But she wasn't the only 'poet' of my acquaintance who seemed to think modern poetry could focus on nothing else.
Of course, there were other themes presented at our monthly poetry gatherings. Poems glorifying magpies and ravens (two of my least favorite birds) etc., etc., etc. 
These poems were attempts at writing in various forms of modern poetry, forms far removed from the sonnets of Shakespeare or Elizabeth Barrett Browning or the incomparable forms used by Longfellow, Poe or Service. 
When I was challenged to write something other than my much-favored doggerel verse, I borrowed a book from the Society's library so I could learn more about different popular poetic forms. My personal opinion of many of the forms demonstrated therein could be summed up in a single word: pretentious. 
I did, finally, write a totally tongue-in-cheek sonnet. Not a  good sonnet, to be sure, but one mentioning poetry forms that any modern poet would recognize. 


Should I, a fledgling poet, try my hand
at writing sonnets, odes or villanelles —
word pictures left like wayward waves on sand
to tease and tantalize cerebral cells?
Perhaps a terza rima or a glose
would be a better style for my rhyme.
I start out well - but am not even close
To making my feet fit required time.

My fellow poets say I should not use
such archaic words—or phrases trite and true.
They seem to think free verse the only muse
and favor rambling form to clerihew.

I try them all but don’t know which is worse.
Perhaps I’d better stick to doggerel verse.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Wyoming winter?

This morning, as I walked around the park behind my home, I watched one of the most spectacular sunrises I have ever seen. Liquid fire streamed over the Wasatch mountains to torch the bottoms of blue-grey cotton ball clouds with an electric red-orange, changing to apricot, to peach, then fading back to grey like a rod of iron heated nearly white-hot in a forge, then slowly cooled. I was in awe, grateful that my morning exercise had coincided with such splendor.
This afternoon one of my sons and I stood outside in shirt sleeves. At that point it was still a lovely day—nearly clear blue skies, moderate breezes, and sunshine—mood music courtesy of the waterfall in my backyard pond.
Tonight the wind, no longer friendly, has adopted a decided chill. Cold shoulder clouds are streaming down from the Arctic, bringing what I consider complete anathema. . .snow. Tomorrow I’ll be shoveling. 


And the forecast says there’s no visible end in sight. 

What is descending upon us reminds me of a poem I penned, years ago, on a cold, windy, snow-driven winter’s day. It expresses my feelings about the season as well as the hope that sees me through.


Wyoming winter stretches on
Through evening grey and muted dawn—
A fierce, forbidding winterscape
Of ice and snow and wind, to shape
A bleak and barren emptiness
That shrouds the spirit with finesse.
Each dreary day of somber hue
Demands depression as its due,
Extracting energy and cheer
Until the spirit is as drear
And lifeless as the blowing snows
That sift and drift in endless rows.

But when all life seems at its ebb,
Forever tangled in that web
Of desolation, dark and drear,
A chick-a-dee pipes up, “Spring’s here!”
And, suddenly, the crushing jaw
Of winter’s endless, gaping maw
Is closed. And joyous in its stead,
A glorious springtime rears its head.
The dawn, so muted yesterday,
Bursts gaily on the world to say
In colors, vibrant, ‘cross the sky,
“Arise and live again! Spring’s nigh!”

A note on that poem….
I entered it in the recent League of Utah Writer’s contest for rhymed poetry. And won second place. Hmmm. Either there were only two of us entering or the competition wasn’t very versatile with rhymed poetry.

The critique said I had a ‘big lapse toward sentimentality and overly used phrasing’. The judge was 'troubled' with "desolation, dark and drear" and the piping chick-a-dee wasn’t 'a strength' unless I was 'paying some kind of clear homage or tribute to Wordsworth and Percy Shelley'. He wants to see me use my skills 'more in service to the 21st century rather than the 19th'.

Right. That ain’t gonna happen. I tend to become very impatient with most 21st century poetry. Enough said.

However, it was an interesting critique.

Was I paying homage to Wordsworth and Shelley? Not purposefully. But I couldn’t be more honored than to have someone think of their poetry when reading mine. They were masters. I, on the other hand, write poetry only when flooded with intensely strong feeling. It isn't something I can serve up at a moment's notice - or even on a month's notice.

So I have to laugh over this poem.

I remember the day well. It was a typical Wyoming winter’s day outside my Meeteetse home: filled with seemingly endless wind and snow doing exactly what I described—shaping a bleak and barren emptiness. Such weather does shroud my spirit. It kills my creativity and my joy, leaving me battling Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder. And to make that particular day even more enjoyable, I was fighting something I seldom experience, a numbing migraine headache.

Was I paying tribute to Wordsworth and Shelley? Not really. Those words expressed, completely, how I felt about the winterscape outside my window. They also expressed how I longed to hear the harbinger of spring—a chick-a-dee singing his cheery “spring’s here” notes; how I longed to see a glorious, vibrant springtime dawn.

Which brings me back to this morning. Was today’s dawn spring-like? Not even close. The underlying gunmetal grey of the clouds provided a starkly cold contrast to the liquid fire streaking across the sky. Although I reveled in its beauty, it held no promise of warmth to come. Even the lovely weather at mid-day was nothing more than an unusual phenomenon to be enjoyed in its brief season. 
I did enjoy it. 
And now it’s gone.

I think I need a strong dose of chocolate.