Wednesday, September 21, 2011

What We're Reading

Tonight No Poetry Will Serve: Poems 2007-2010 by Adrienne Rich

Anterooms by Richard Wilbur

For a generation that grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, Rich and Wilbur were two representatives of “contemporary” American poetry. They have continued to produce important and varied work throughout their lives. These volumes have in some respects the feeling of elegy, of summing up, but, more importantly, they show two poets who have remained true to their visions and have continued to produce work as good or better than any they have written in their youth or middle age. That doesn’t always happen with writers and poets, and it is something worth noting and celebrating.

Adrienne Rich became a poet associated with the Feminist Movement, and that politicization has sometimes gotten in the way of her receiving the critical appreciation she deserves as a poet. The poems in Tonight No Poetry Will Serve: Poems 2007-2010 show us, gloriously, a poet thematically unreformed and as mordant as ever. Richard Wilbur’s volume continues the miscellany of “adult” poems, translations from the French, and playful poems for children that have characterized his work. Many of the poems in this volume will remind readers of the great lyrical poems of his early work. His poetry still reflects Wilbur’s enthusiasm for the protean possibilities of language and poetic forms. The short poem reproduced below is vintage Wilbur, one that demonstrates in its composition and form the very argument that is made in the text. Like the title selection below from Rich, it is also representative of what seems to be the major subject of so much modern poetry, poetry itself, its possibilities and limitations.

Tonight No Poetry Will Serve

Saw you walking barefoot
taking a long look
at the new moon’s eyelid

later spread
sleep-fallen, naked in your dark hair
asleep but no oblivious
of the unslept unsleeping

Tonight I think
no poetry
will serve.

Syntax of rendition:

verb pilots the plane
adverb modifies action

verb force-feeds noun
submerges the subject
noun is choking
verb disgraced goes on doing

now diagram the sentence.

Adrienne Rich, 2007

Terza Rima

In this great form, as Dante proved in Hell,
There is no dreadful thing that can’t be said
In passing. Here, for instance, one could tell

How our jeep skidded sideways toward the dead
Enemy soldier with the staring eyes,
Bumping a little as it struck his head,

And then flew on, as if toward Paradise.

Richard Wilbur, 2010

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