There is a certain elegiac clarity and a dignity of purpose in certain poems, and poets possessed of a forthright manner and a lack of the contrived innuendoes that construct an approach to poetry or a facsimile of a poem.
C.P.Cavafy, Yeats, George Herbert, John Donne. A lot of the work of Gwendolyn MacEwen, and in the Greek writers she tended to enthuse over, for instance Yannis Ritsos, whom I met at her apartment one time. Also, a contemporary of hers, Irving Layton, much admired himself by Allen Ginsberg, William Carlos Williams, and an endless procession of very unique writers, not the least of which was Leonard Cohen who called Layton “Canada’s greatest poet”(and definitely not only because he was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1981).
That elegiac quality exists in Raymond Souster, F.R. Scott, John Newlove.
Louise Bogan’s The Blue Estuaries. Almost anything by Mark Strand.
George Seferis‘ work certainly.
The occasion for saying this is I’ve been re-reading Yehuda Amichai, and reading through the works of C.K. Williams. Not that these stand alone, but they stand singularly. I’d say I first encountered such qualities in the works of A.M. Klein. Another true, but rarely acknowledged master.
And you can find these qualities in certain poems, observations of Joe Rosenblatt.
The stillness encountered, the sense of profundity, the ‘whack’ that C.K. Williams speaks of in his poem of the same title: that sudden, yet familiar clarity that sweeps clean and leaves you more of your true self than you’d ever been up to that point.
Even the ringing of a certain bell, as at the beginning of ‘Starting Over’ by John Lennon.
Every writer, poet, songwriter, recognizes it when it occurs. But the scarce rarity of it inhabiting simple forthright lines with a certain regularity is the prize.
The work may seem oddly non-poetic when first encountered, or alternatively, exactly what you might expect. Preceded by distant rhythms and certain algebraic formulations of words, but it always come to that moment, this time, these words.
That is poetry: music, and song integrated with the silences and rhythms necessary to establish a poem in the world that exists like a very unique, and distinct world. Not separate, but so far inclusive the boundaries are not only contained but delineated without any injury to the work.
Discovering such as these, you can feel without the false discussions of literati, academics, or others useless opinions, the absolute necessity for poetry.
Making mention in the introduction to Poems, by Yehuda Amichai, is Michael Hamburger who very graciously himself lived the words he’d put to paper, in his translations as well, whether discussing Isaac Singer (present at the time), Irving Layton (for whom I’d said I’d get Singer’s autograph), Margaret Atwood, or the latest reader at a few literary festivals we talked about.
“To read these poems, therefore, is to both be reminded of things one has tended to forget and to discover things that one has never known.” – Michael Hamburger
And lest it be taken that knowing, in regards to literature, scripture, history and the world are distant and apart from a poet’s life, know that Yehuda Amichai served in two wars, and while experienced in the truest sense found no exclusivity in certainties of any faith, or outlook.
You would find a semblance with very distinct differences in the works of Paul Celan.
A true view of being Israeli therefore, as well as a great awareness of European recall while standing firm in the very alive knowledge of the Kings and Prophets of his history in an individualistic manner likely disdained by nationalists and those against anything but a blanket stance on history and contemporaneity.
This makes for a great poet. And great are the poets also mentioned here whose work is a statement against any assumptions by virtue of its uniqueness and craft.
©Dean J. Baker
**note: click on the names for links to their work
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