Sunday, February 15, 2009

Save us from Poets

The second collection of Robert Haas’ “Poet’s Choice” columns for the Washington Post seemed like something of an ideal anthology so I decided to try another such, Edward Hirsch’s Poet’s Choice (2006). This is an altogether different experience. While Haas has an overly “sensitive” moment or two, Hirsch is so riddled with poetic stereotypes that he’s practically a parody. Hirsch is the kind of person who constantly lets you know how powerfully he was moved, how hard he has thought, how long he has read, how much better he is that you. Basically that POETRY is the only thing worth living for. And I can’t help but wonder every time he frequently praises a translation from any of a variety of languages - is he really fluent enough in Bulgarian to evaluate it? Odd that he never qualifies such praise but then he thinks criticism is simply finding synonyms for "good". The only reason I kept reading was to see if I can find any writer I didn’t know about but should have (and at least two: Wendy Cope and Tomaz Salamun).

So try not to giggle too much while skimming this short anthology of Hirsch’s lapses:

* “Poetry speaks with the greatest intensity against the effacement of individuals, the obliteration of communities, the destruction of nature. It tries to keep the world from ending by positing itself against oblivion.”

* “She has an extremely sarcastic surface, but one detects under that surface a lyrical and effusive imagination.”

* “A. Van Jordan combines the tragic poignancy of the blues with the cinematic sweep of a documentary in his deeply humane and highly imaginative second book[…].”

* “There was always in his work an element of catastrophism, a grave open-ended lucidity about the twentieth century. His work was initiated by the apocalyptic fires of history.”

* “There are poems that tremble with human presence, that put the suffering of a single human being squarely in front of us. Such poems have a dramatic simplicity that rivets our attention.” (And then he presents a poem about a young girl that’s basically lined prose and doesn’t even bother to provide anything specific - I’m not exaggerating by saying that your local newspaper has a headline with more “simplicity” and “suffering” than this poem.)

* “He is a maker of myths and texts, an observant explorer who delights in following and then leaving the ancient trail, taking the self into the wild, letting the wilderness into the open house of the self.”