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The dilemma returns to haunt me with the publication of each new volume of John Ashbery , for me the world's finest living poet. It's just that we can't be sure how many of them to take in at once. A poem begins and ends with a far greater sense of its own boundaries than does even a short story, and a large part of its power derives from the tension with which it inhabits those boundaries. The poet has arranged the pieces in this order for a reason. Burnside has spoken of his poetic voice as registering a sense of wonder at the phenomenal world, not in the Wordsworthian spirit of being thrown into belittling perspective by it, "but of being part of a rich and complex narrative". One should ideally come upon them unexpectedly, allowing them to pierce the dullest moments with full-throated ease. Dipping into a cherished volume for the odd one can be richly rewarding - I can't be the only devotee who does this at intervals with The Whitsun Weddings, The Colossus, early Hughes. Ashbery's densely allusive, defiantly unrevised work achieves the extraordinary balancing act of managing to say oblique things about the world we live in, and the relations we engage in, while stopping just short of out-and-out surrealism. The fear is that ploughing through a whole clump of them minimises the impact of what are after all intended to be discrete linguistic force fields.

Enjamb


The vastly popular Birthday Letters, Ted Hughes's final poems about Sylvia Plath, gained from being read successively, precisely because there was an overarching narrative drive binding the whole work together. This is perhaps why poems are hardly ever more impressive than when read singly in review sections and literary journals or on tube trains. Ashbery's densely allusive, defiantly unrevised work achieves the extraordinary balancing act of managing to say oblique things about the world we live in, and the relations we engage in, while stopping just short of out-and-out surrealism. Where a collection is obviously or implicitly some sort of sequence, the problem isn't as acute. The question has vexed generations of readers since at least the publication of the Lyrical Ballads , and will continue to do so as long as Carcanet and Bloodaxe keep obliging us. Much contemporary American poetry is muted by being read in chunks. August Kleinzahler 's The Strange Hours Travelers Keep is a supremely accomplished collection, but the poems' combination of garrulous colloquialism and imagistic pungency is such that they are much better single spies than in battalions. Burnside has spoken of his poetic voice as registering a sense of wonder at the phenomenal world, not in the Wordsworthian spirit of being thrown into belittling perspective by it, "but of being part of a rich and complex narrative". Where the poetic strategy is all about flaunting verbal or linguistic peculiarity, where the language is drawing attention to itself at least as much as what it might be referring to, we are on rockier ground. The poet has arranged the pieces in this order for a reason. With some contemporary poets, the measured glide from one poem to another is congenial. I opt for reading about 10 at a time until I reach the end, but never lose the feeling that one at a time would be much better for both me and the poems. One should ideally come upon them unexpectedly, allowing them to pierce the dullest moments with full-throated ease. Share via Email Different angles on different poets Reading a poetry book from cover to cover, with breaks every dozen or so, as though one were taking in another couple of chapters of a novel, just feels wrong. A poem begins and ends with a far greater sense of its own boundaries than does even a short story, and a large part of its power derives from the tension with which it inhabits those boundaries. But how to read a new volume? For me, John Burnside 's work stands well in this light. The dilemma returns to haunt me with the publication of each new volume of John Ashbery , for me the world's finest living poet. Front to back clearly has to be the approach. It's just that we can't be sure how many of them to take in at once. Dipping into a cherished volume for the odd one can be richly rewarding - I can't be the only devotee who does this at intervals with The Whitsun Weddings, The Colossus, early Hughes. This intimation of being woven into the texture of what the poems describe makes possible an almost seamless transition from one to another in a collection such as Feast Days Martin Godwin Is there a proper way to read a volume of poetry? The same could be said of Pound's Cantos, or Shakespeare's sonnets for that matter. The fear is that ploughing through a whole clump of them minimises the impact of what are after all intended to be discrete linguistic force fields.

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4 thoughts on “Enjamb”

Bacage

12.04.2018 at 10:12 pm
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Where a collection is obviously or implicitly some sort of sequence, the problem isn't as acute.

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