You’re a kind ear, Joe.

HJN, Abstract, watercolor

HJN, Abstract, watercolor

I hope I don’t wear you out with my musings. Poetry is there when you need it. It seems to rise to the occasion when nothing else will do. It concentrates the mind and the emotions, like scripture.

Poets get a bad rap, partly of their own doing. Poems come across as puzzles too often: What’s he or she really saying? Why not just talk plainly?

I think our notion that poets have their heads in the clouds or up their asses comes from the 19th-century Romantics.

Ferlinghetti is an eminence among our modern poets. He has pushed back against complexity in poetry. He and Cummings and Bukowski are credited with being “gateway” poets who tempt folks into poetry because their verse is “easy” to grasp.

Poets sprout from various crevices and lurk among us. One I follow wrote not long ago that “poetry is easier to write than to read.”

Nowadays poetry is mostly read by other poets, and by duffers like me. Poetry seems to me similar to mathematics, though — useless yes, essential yes. I’ve often heard people say something like “I’ve never used algebra after having to study it in high school.” It’s beside the point. “Useless” abstract studies wire our brains in positive ways.

Auden wrote in his elegy to Yeats, “Poetry makes nothing happen.” Toward the end he falls into strict cadence: “Earth, receive an honored guest. William Yeats is laid to rest… With your unconstraining voice… Still persuade us to rejoice…. In the prison of his days… Teach the free man how to praise.”

Rejoice and praise. It packs an emotional wallop that I can’t quite put a finger on, what with the rhythm and rhyme and all. It reminds me of the force that “Taps” has when played on a bugle at a grave. Makes me bawl. I guess that’s why poetry hangs around, at least for now.

[Copyright (c) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.]

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day, and watch Netflix and Prime Video for entertainment. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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3 Responses to You’re a kind ear, Joe.

  1. Eric Wayne says:

    I rarely read poetry, but often quote the stuff I read back in the day. It’s an abused art form, like photography, and probably rap = too many people do it too badly, in which case there’s too much garbage to sift through. It’s potentially quite an amazing thing.

    I used to be into T.S. Eliot, who, despite all his sophistication, did some of the most accessible rhymes (“Now that lilacs are in bloom, she has a bowl of lilacs in her room”). One of my very favorite all-time songs is a musical interpretation of “The Hollow Men” by a theater group:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EmCoIfDn-f4

    Hmmm. Come to think of it I’m working on another series titled, “Death’s Dream Kingdom”, and that comes from that poem.

    I should probably read some more poetry. It’s great stuff. We as a culture have just lost our appreciation.

    • JMN says:

      Oh, these are good comments. A perfect iambic pentameter is “I hate to see that evening sun go down.” When I dribble doggerel I feel best usually when I constrain my verse to some mold, whether rhythm or rhyme, or both. I’m interested in how the effort to follow a pattern can take you into directions you weren’t aiming for (“but I need this rhyme”). But I’m absolutely not an expert on poetry. I revere Eliot very much. Yes, it amazes me how much poetry writing I’ve encountered so far in blogs. It’s bracing, really. Out of the ferment comes the cheese — milk’s leap to greatness. That’s a silly remark, but it’s interesting that the act of versifying still attracts large numbers of earnest practitioners. I listened to the “Hollow Men” link you gave. It has lots of power. I liked especially the saxophone passage at the end. And the minor key guitar arpeggio that runs throughout. I look forward to seeing the new series you’re working on that comes from it. Auden wrote about poetry, “It survives in the valley of its making, a way of being, a voice.” It’s like cockroaches — not appreciated but durable!

      • Eric Wayne says:

        That song gives me the chills. I especially like the spoken parts, and there’s one really beautiful part where the woman sings, “At the hour when we are
        Trembling with tenderness
        Lips that would kiss
        Form prayers to broken stone.”

        That song is haunted. I had it on one of my giant playlists of new music to sift through, and so it would come up randomly on shuffle, and I’d hear it in the background. This is how I expand my musical horizons, by the way, not through direct listening, but almost through the subconscious. Anyway, that one just bowled me over one day while out walking. It grows on you, and grows.

        I also used to write a lot of poetry when I was 18. I stopped when I went back to college and never took it up again.

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