Within the limited time I can find for it, I’ve been informally surveying what others online are doing for National Poetry Month. I’ll make one casual observation, unbacked by rigor or focused study: a great deal I’ve seen this April is aimed solely at the supply side for poetry.
I’ve got nothing against urging more folks to write poetry. How could I? I’ve contributed additional verses to the Olympus of written —and albeit years ago — to the avalanche of published poetry. I’ve even advocated here for more poetry that isn’t judged as “great poetry,” or even intended as such, because I don’t believe in a poetic Gresham’s Law. Two others in my house have even started the “write a poem-a-day” challenge. If urging more poetry to be written is a crime, I’m part of a criminal syndicate.
But I find some things lacking. Some things that should be as large or larger but seem (on first glance at least) to be noticeably smaller this month: a profound and compelling case for the poetry already in existence, statements of its impact on us as poets or just people. I’d welcome testimony that folks are reading a poem a day on average, as a challenge if it must be, as a pleasure if possible.
Committed poets, like committed musicians, often talk freely about influences, while beginning or occassional poets seem to shrink from this. Are they afraid their individual expression will be blunted by reading others? Or that they will only find other poems lacking the particular thing they seek to write? I think most poets start by being compelled to write poetry. Should there be a time shortly after that when they see a need, as most musicians quickly find, to consider themselves as part of a continuum of poets?
In one moment in the video I Ken Burnsed it into trying to make it seem that Pound and Whitman were having a glare-off between each other.
Today’s piece, re-released from the archives of our first two years of the Parlando Project with a new lyric video, is an example written long before the first National Poetry Month of two crucial poets speaking to influences. First off, one of my own influences, Carl Sandburg, speaks of how Emily Dickinson’s view of transcendental nature illuminated him. I should note, Sandburg was writing this only 25 years after the world first saw Emily Dickinson’s poetry and long before her stature had risen to current levels. Note too that few would think of Sandburg as a nature poet. This old guy reminds himself, that in his time Dickinson was fresher than “classic rock” to Sandburg. The next influence Sandburg testifies to might be more at a “guilty pleasure.” Stephen Crane’s The Black Riders, was a book of gnomic free verse that was directly influenced by Crane being given a freshly published copy of Emily Dickinson’s first collection. Caught between creative monuments like Dickinson and Whitman, Crane’s contribution to poetry seems slight to most then or now, but Sandburg says that he picked up imagistic honesty from it.
Ezra Pound, an indispensable promoter* of the Modernist English-language poetry revolution as well as a poet, gives us a more ambiguous note of influence. His “A Pact” is an example of just how useful it may be to read poetry that you don’t care for, or that just misses the mark, as a way to find out what it is that you do care for.
By doing what the Parlando Project is doing, today and for six years, we’re trying to add to the demand side of the poetry table. Constrained by practicalities of copyright and respect for living writers, we use mostly older poems, but they are part of our continuum. You can hear my performance combining Carl Sandburg’s “Letters to Dead Imagists” with Ezra Pound’s “A Pact” three ways. There’s a player gadget below to hear it for most of you, a video picture link above for those who’d like to watch the new lyric video, and then this highlighted link as an alternative way to hear the performance.
*Sandburg, who probably even then was politically at separate poles from Pound, said as much. See this 1916 piece where Sandburg sings Pound’s praises.