Mar 29, 2012

The Stupidest

I must emerge from my hiatus to say that David Orr's new book on contemporary poetry, "Beautiful and Pointless," just about has to be the stupidest piece of writing on poetry I have ever seen. Orr is a sometime reviewer of poetry for the New York Times. He even took a few wild swings at Yvor Winters's poetry in a short NYT piece about a decade ago. The kindest thing I can think of to say about Orr's new book -- and I am trying to be kind -- is that it is simply wrong on both counts. Poetry nowadays is rarely -- extremely rarely -- beautiful, and it isn't pointless, either. Orr spends a good deal of space trying to explicate poems from recent times, but you have to wonder why. Aren't they pointless?

But, of course, poetry is a form of communication like any other, as we all know and as Yvor Winters and J.V. Cunningham explained with such wisdom and insight, except for these fools who want to carve out some mystical never-never-land for poetry. What they have done, Orr and his ilk, is so degrade poetry as to make it culturally meaningless, as is shown clearly in its ever declining status and importance as an art. Orr goes on and on about how we who read poetry just plain love poetry, and that that's the only reason we read it. He writes, as an analogy, that nobody asks what some rapper is trying to say with his rap. How utterly stupid. Lots of sensible people are trying to figure out what rappers are saying, because it is quite obvious that they are frequently, if not always, trying to say something, trying to make a point -- and on occasion trying to make very serious points.

Of course passionate readers love language and sharp turns of phrase (not that there are many to glean from the ugly poems quoted in Orr's book). But we know that language is a form of communication. Poets should be trying to say something to us with their beautiful language, for the truths of a poem are the culmination of our love for its language. In fact, poetry usually becomes ugly when poets get tangled up with these stupid theories of poetry's pointlessness. How sad! But let them write on, these pointless poets. I won't endeavor stop them. They are welcome to the drek they produce. But I won't say their work is poetry, or good poetry, or worth reading.

But, please, those who care, please keep writing good poetry, works of art that make points, and make them beautifully.