Keats's odes are among my favorite poems ever. As are Neruda's. So yes, I think my poems are odes, though I really just see those titles as ways of more or less orienting the poem. I've never thought about this until now, but I guess you could say that one effect of all the titles, their pervasiveness in the book, might be to once again, as so many other things do, put into question the meaning of the word "for," which I suppose is one of the great human questions: what is all this for? Why, and for whom, are... Read more »
It's a kind of de-familiarization in relation to the song: if she were to sing absolutely straight, right on the beat, because of the richness and intensity of her instrument - her voice - I think it could actually feel a little inhuman, too good somehow, separate from our concerns.
It's just interesting to me that the physical enactment of that mind moving has gradually changed for you in the last few years. It made me wonder if the change was deliberate in any sense, or procedural, like when A.R. Ammons stuck an adding machine roll into his typewriter to squeeze his verses into shorter lines.
When I saw the sun bears at the Oakland Zoo, I immediately was drawn to them. Not to be ornery, but regarding what you said about the speaker identifying with the bear: I'm not sure it's exactly right to say that the speaker feels that the bear must share his sadness, or whatever else he is feeling. That would be classic pathetic fallacy, which is certainly generative for poetry, but here the speaker appears actually to be rejecting that idea.
I just know from experience that reading a funny poem aloud, especially at the beginning of a public reading, can have a certain effect. Somehow narrowing the spectrum of possible emotional reactions. So while I like it when people laugh at my poems, and I definitely enjoy being funny in them, I don't really think that's the most important thing that's going on, at least not to me.
Not that I play guitar anywhere near as well as she sings, but I think I have always had a tendency to play solos the same way, in emotional relation to the structure of the song. I choose simple lines, and only play what seems emotionally relevant, and often express that emotion in time, that is in play or resistance to the set time of the song.
I'm more than a little suspicious of humor in poems, because I think it can at times be a way of getting a reaction out of a reader, or an audience, that is something closer to relief: i.e., thank god this isn't poetry, but stand-up comedy. Some poets are really funny, but more often poets are fourth rate stand up comics at best. But they benefit from the sheer relief of the audience.
Milton on speed. I am going to need about a decade to think about that. That delay in syntax, the putting off of the click of the sentence into itself, is something that has always intrigued me. I love the emotional effect of it, and never want it to be merely a gesture. Sometimes I try it and it doesn't work, so I have to put the poem aside, and try again, more simply and more strange.
The speaker tentatively reaches out with that feeling and realizes that it's kind of absurd, or at least a dangerous consolation, which is what I think is discovered as that longish sentence at the end of the poem comes to its conclusion. But here I am interpreting my own poem, which is kind of like making out with one's own high school yearbook photo.
For me, form is something I locate in the process of writing the poems. What I mean is, I start scribbling, and then try to form the poem - on a typewriter or on my computer - and, by trial and error, try to find the right shape. I just try to keep forming the poem in different ways until it feels right to me.
Something can be symbolic without being a mere stand-in or vessel, which just brings us away from the true mystery and dread, into some boring version of what we already know. So what you say is true, in that the bear is a kind of parallel to the speaker, or imagined as such, but also very different. So if it's a symbol it is - ahem - a polysemous one.
That being said, some of my favorite poets are extremely funny. The aforementioned Matt Rohrer, for instance. Mary Ruefle. James Tate might be the best example of someone who is systematically misread because he can be hilarious. In his poems, as in all great funny poems, the humor is one very appealing version of the surprise and associative movement that is at the heart of all poetry.
I've always been more than a little mystified by poets who seem to think talking to people as directly as possible is a bad thing. I mean, I don't want to set up a straw man here: I understand that for many poets - and for me, at times - writing truly means writing in a way that is difficult, simply because the poem is trying to grasp for something elusive. So the difficulty of the poem is just unavoidable, and not in any way artificially imposed. So "as possible" is the key part of the phrase above, I suppose.
I was thinking a little bit about this very thing - poetry and music - the other day when I was listening to Lucinda Williams. The way she sings is very emotive, and there is a kind of drag to her articulation: she sings behind the beat, sort of like she's being pulled along by the song a little, or is in resistance to it.
[My poems] of course, it's symbolic, in the way that things in a poem can be - that is, pointing to something beyond its mere ordinary meaning, while also retaining all the qualities of that ordinary meaning. In other words, it's a bear, but it's also suggesting something else, just by virtue of the attention to it. But it's not "symbolic" in that way we are taught to think about things in poems.
There is all this stuff about how sensitive poets are and how in touch with feelings, etc. they are, but really all we care about is language. At least in the initial stages of the process of writing the poem, though later other things start to come in, and a really good poem usually needs something more than just an interest in the material of language to mean anything to a reader.
That is a horrible thing in a way, but it is the one thing poets can bring back to experience, this intense focus on language, which activates words as a portal back into experience. It's a mysterious process that's very hard to articulate, because it's focused entirely on the material of language in a way, but in the interests not just of language itself whatever that would mean - that's the mistake, by the way, that so many so-called "experimental" poets make - but in service to human experience.
Reading a poem is a real thing, a worthy thing. So to be there right with the reader at that moment is part of the effect of a title like "Poem for" something or other. Matt Rohrer does this a lot in his titles, and I think I might have gotten some of the idea to do this, or at least been reminded of how it can work, from his recent amazing books.
Mahmoud Darwish wrote that "extreme clarity is a mystery." That sounds right to me. I don't want anyone hunting for anything ancillary to the true mystery. If that means risking being thought of as glib or dull or banal or stupid or whatever, I guess that will just have to be the way it is.