After reading Ron's and Kasey's and Thomas's posts of a week or so ago, I began thinking about concepts in critiquing and understanding poetry, and how they relate to the quality of it today; particularly the lack of real criticism in lieu of friendly pats on the back in support of recycled “country club writing,” and regurgitated reviews of obvious content. What has affected me in reading many of Ron’s and Kasey’s posts, is realizing that there are barely any mainstream resources containing meaningful reviews of works that matter, or should matter. Combine this with traditional and painfully redundant printed teaching methods, and it is no wonder that poetry in many quarters has become a lot like post-impressionist-impressionist paintings: People seem to like them because they are popular and comfortable, and yet the understanding and use of the style has already run its important course. When bloggers step forward to write about a work, body of work, or a poet; it provides an opportunity to explore something that I may otherwise have completely missed, or re-evaluate something that may be suspect.
In the mid-late 19th Century, impressionism appeared as a bold new palette with a completely invigorated painting technique, demanding a departure from traditionally mastered methods. The concept of giving the “impression” of movement, or of color, or of light through juxtaposition and subject implication was a radical concept made possible through experiments in technique and artistic vision and cultural commentary. This is very much like Thomas’s statement that “…the poet…tries to isolate and present the emotion in precise, intense formula.” To do this today in oil painting (as does Thomas Kincaid, for example) is to take the product of a period in art history, an artist’s painstakingly developed mode, hard work, and vision; and copy it in essence, exactly. So in the end it looks like an impressionistic painting, it smells like an impressionistic painting, but it is completely void of any other sensation, save beauty (and part of this depends on the frame!). The advancement of impressionism (in this comparison) was made possible only through the relationships and support of fellow artists, a handful of patrons, an evolving society, and the critics. Everyone involved had to begin looking at the world through a very different set of eyes.
Story Line Press’s “Unrelenting Reader: The New Poet-Critics,” - edited by Paul M. Hedeen and D.G. Myers has made for interesting reading thus far (though I am barely a third of the way through). Included are essays by Louise Glück, Robert McDowell, Jane Hirshfield, Dana Gioia, Robert Pinsky, and many others. The anthology is meant to share and steer the reader to many of the important elements of poesis, poeta, and poema. Some of the comments that jumped out at me were:
"The weakening of criticism among poets denotes a disdain of intelligence that will be obvious to anyone who has ever read much contemporary poetry…"
"the purpose of too much superficial criticism is to turn poetry into prose as quickly as possible…"
"…the new poet-critics aim to redefine criticism as evaluation where “evaluation” is understood to mean not only the sorting and ranking of poets, but also the unblinking appraisal of poetry’s place on the map of human experience."
I think that that last part speaks to Kasey’s point that Mills missed; that being of public opinion and societal relevance.