W.S. MERWIN TAKES ON JULIE CARR

Poets should not depend on things, on pictures, on colors: that’s for painters.

All the best poets know that “no ideas but in things” is the worst possible advice for the poet.

Ideas use things in poetry, but poetry is speech.  Adding measured emphasis (metrics) is never unwise; our own experiments (too complex to write about here) show music to be a poetry too excitable for words, but still containing ideas—which live behind every good image in every good poem.

When reading essays: read what they think.

When reading poems: read what they do.

But in both cases, the essence is an idea.  Philosophical acumen is the basis of all artful communication.

The greatest poets have always warned: avoid cheap politics and avant-garde tricks, which are just excuses to be lazy and stupid.

Classical learning is the only learning.

Small beer is small beer.  Snot on the sleeve is snot on the sleeve.

There’s nothing magical out there. Daddy Ezra can’t help you. Only classical learning and your pretty face can.

William Stanley (W.S.) Merwin has been publishing poetry for 60 years; he managed to make contact with icons in his youth—guys like Pound and Robert Graves and Berryman and Blackmur and T.S. Eliot—he’s a pretty famous poet (also a translator), but unfortunately, no famous poems. Merwin abandoned punctuation in his poetry in a beat/hippie move when he was in his 40s—when he was in a bit of a crisis and leaving Europe for good and coming back to America in the late 1950s.

Merwin understands that poetry is speech, and leaving off punctuation was the earnest attempt to make ‘speech-which-is-not-speech,’ or trembling, misty poetry, and to a large extent he has succeeded in that regard.

Merwin has said that in abandoning punctuation, he was leaving the page where punctuation nails things down to embrace how people talk, which is almost the same thing, though it misses the point of punctuation, which helps talking—it does not hinder it.

But Merwin is a good poet because he plays with ideas, and came to realize Pound was dead wrong about the image, and so much else. “The intellectual coherence of Pound’s work is something that I don’t any longer believe in.”  (Paris Review interview, 1986).

you know there was never a name for that color

One can see in this one line Merwin, the poet, rejecting all the painter’s tricks—those the silly Imagists insisted poets try—and instead, exploding with iambic and anapest rhythms, raining down upon us an idea, in the implied question: what does it mean, exactly, when a color doesn’t have a name?

Merwin, first seed, will be tough to beat with this one.

Julie Carr began as a classical dancer, and to dance, you need music, and poetry is a kind of dance to music—we don’t hear the music but we see the dance, the poetry.

Julie Carr is also a mother, and still young, and as soon as she turned to poetry, she accumulated awards; reading her, one gets the feeling when it comes to the flags and banners of poetic speech, she got it, and got it quickly.

Either I loved myself or I loved you.

This line has a kind of delicious despair, a romantic power; there is an intoxicating idea in the symmetry displayed in “Either I loved myself or I loved you.”

We have no doubt this contest will be a very interesting one.

 

 

 

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4 Comments

  1. maryangeladouglas said,

    March 17, 2016 at 2:55 pm

    What I love the most about the Merwin line on the nameless color is that it makes me think of all colors to read the line and then my mind tries to remember the colors I have seen that seemed to have no names and then turns toward color swatches at paint stores those books for customer reference that seem like art books to me and which I always wanted to buy but couldn’t since they weren’t for sale. About Julie Carr very glad to know that she started in ballet. To trace a dance like quality in the poems?

  2. noochinator said,

    March 17, 2016 at 4:45 pm

    “Only classical learning and your pretty face can [help you].”

    Yes, how one comports one’s face is very important — a frowner is a downer. Your mum was right when she said that no one wants to see evidence of your inner tumult….

    The complete Julie Carr poem is below:

    A fourteen-line poem on Adoration

    1. It does not take much

    2. Half an hour here, half an hour there

    3. It’s not a “presence” I adore

    4. The erotically swollen moon

    5. Let me go, friends, companions

    6. The soldier watches his kid in a play

    7. He seems nothing less or more than “foreigner”

    8. Grass. Dirt.

    9. The bottle broke and all the women gathered shards

    10. The effect was of inflation

    11. There was only one alive moment in the day

    12. Either I loved myself or I loved you

    13. Just like a mother to say that

    14. “Do you become very much?” she wrote

    Julie Carr

  3. maryangeladouglas said,

    March 17, 2016 at 5:31 pm

    IN THE BEGINNING, POETRY DIDN’T NEED PROTOCOLS

    [again, to Valerie Macon]

    in the beginning poetry didn’t need protocols.
    it was a whisper in the trees.
    stars turning over in their sleep.

    the fairytale kneaded over night
    into a luscious bread
    of everything said by the soul

    to the Trinity.
    and of all colours, I choose these
    said even the poor poets

    far from home
    but listening to the glistening.
    and what were they writing then

    if it wasn’t Poetry?

    mary angela douglas 16 march 2016.

    P.S. It doesn’t need them now, either.

  4. noochinator said,

    March 18, 2016 at 11:16 am

    A Letter to Ruth Stone

    Now that you have caught sight
    of the other side of darkness
    the invisible side
    so that you can tell
    it is rising
    first thing in the morning
    and know it is there
    all through the day

    another sky
    clear and unseen
    has begun to loom
    in your words
    and another light is growing
    out of their shadows
    you can hear it

    now you will be able
    to envisage beyond
    any words of mine
    the color of these leaves
    that you never saw
    awake above the still valley
    in the small hours
    under the moon
    three nights past the full

    you know there was never
    a name for that color

    W.S. Merwin


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