NALINI PRIYADARSHNI TANGLES WITH RICHARD WILBUR IN THE SOUTH

Richard Wilbur, back at the end of the 20th century, told Peter Davison, then poetry editor of the Atlantic, “I love Bill Williams’s poems but his critical opinions seem to me to be nonsense. He was forever saying that if you write a sonnet you are making a curtsey to the court of Elizabeth I–”

Well, Dick, in some ways, Bill (WC Williams) was right.

The sonnet, as a form, just has a way of sounding polite and respectful, no matter how many ‘bad words’ you toss in there.

But on the other hand, is this a bad thing?

In a nutshell, this is what went completely wrong with American poetry in the early 20th century—and we still have not recovered.

American poetry split decisively into two camps: and both were dead wrong.

And the fatal error was thinking the choice you had was only between these two.

One camp, let’s call it the WC Williams camp, said: Get rid of the sonnet!

The other camp, let’s call it the Richard Wilbur camp, said, But we can make the sonnet impolite!

The truth is: the sonnet, as a form, is polite, and there’s nothing at all wrong with this.

A form, like the sonnet, which always sounds polite, no matter how selfish and rude the author, is a wonderful invention—a gift to the world.

But it shows nothing but ignorance of form in general to then assume that all forms are like the sonnet.

Just as it is ignorant to insist that poetry should not be beautiful, or romantic, or worshipful, or respectful, if that is, indeed, what certain forms do best.  If you want to slap a person in the face, use your hand.  And yet a curtsey, depending on to whom it is made, or where, or when, can be even more devastating than a slap.

Nalini Priyadarshni, from Punjab, India, enters our 2016 March Madness Tournament with the following:

Denial won’t redeem you or make you less vulnerable. My unwavering love just may.

Poetry once appealed to sentiment and fed on sentiment and grew large and popular on sentiment and quieted crowds with sentiment and gloried in sentiment.

Until one day, poetry was demeaned and shamed with the relatively recent term (early 20th century) that’s entirely pejorative: sentimental. 

One can see Pound in the transition period using the word sentimentical.

This line of Priyadarshni’s (singing with a strong iambic/anapestic rhythm) could defeat armies.

Richard Wilbur, who is 95, and honored with the second seed in the South, very much belongs to that overly-intellectual century (the 20th) in which poetry lost its way, asserting itself in thousands of tragically over-thought strategies.

Here is Wilbur asserting himself, without sentiment, as poets in the American 20th century were wont to do, strongly, forcefully (one can almost hear the fist thumping on the desk: not, not, not!):

not vague, not lonely, not governed by me only

Wilbur was a formalist, and like so many formalists in the 20th century, had to apologize for it in all sorts of unconscious ways, yearning to be serious, but falling into spasms of light verse here and there, almost against his will; writing as delicately as he could with a modesty that signaled to his peers he wanted nothing to do with courts and queens and monuments.

This contest is sentiment—of the most loving and powerful kind: Priyadarshni—against whatever it was respected poets were trying to do in the 20th century: Wilbur.

Who will win?

 

 

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19 Comments

  1. maryangeladouglas said,

    March 18, 2016 at 7:06 pm

    For sure the sentimental in poetry, sentiment itself has been bashed in Poetry for a long time now; I think, especially after Yeats died. Sentimental poems in some cases were even perversely misinterpreted so that they fit the new model (but they were still what they were, those poems to anyone with a grain of poetic discernment).

    One of many reasons I respect Scarriet is for bringing sentiment back and recognizing it as something real. because it is real unless we really do want to be robots and worse churned into data ourselves in the end.

    I do feel much of Richard Wilbur’s poetry has flashes of beauty in it. I never really realized he was under this kind of constraint. It makes me sad to think that, thinking, as much as I love many of his poems if he’d not been subject to these kind of strictures, what kind of poet would he have really been. How many are like that, incomplete because they let the prevailing idea govern what they did WITH THEIR OWN WORDS.

    I confess I love the sonnet no matter what it says. It is a beautiful and elegant form that is irreplaceable. It is very exciting to introduce into the mix of the poetry of a lady from Punjab and to wonder then, did Indian poetry as a whole go through this kind of thing, or was sentiment always free there in poetry, age after age? I would like to know that.

    • maryangeladouglas said,

      March 18, 2016 at 7:15 pm

      This is my favorite poem by Richard Wilbur. I feel it is perfect as it is. And lyrical.

      THE BEAUTIFUL CHANGES
      by Richard Wilbur

      One wading a Fall meadow finds on all sides
      The Queen Anne’s Lace lying like lilies
      On water; it glides
      So from the walker, it turns
      Dry grass to a lake, as the slightest shade of you
      Valleys my mind in fabulous blue Lucernes.

      The beautiful changes as a forest is changed
      By a chameleon’s tuning his skin to it;
      As a mantis, arranged
      On a green leaf, grows
      Into it, makes the leaf leafier, and proves
      Any greenness is deeper than anyone knows.

      Your hands hold roses always in a way that says
      They are not only yours; the beautiful changes
      In such kind ways,
      Wishing ever to sunder
      Things and things’ selves for a second finding, to lose
      For a moment all that it touches back to wonder.

      • thomasbrady said,

        March 18, 2016 at 7:47 pm

        Hi Mary,

        Reproducing your post here. It’s not showing for some reason. I corrected your other post and I must have accidentally done something, so here it is.

        This is my favorite poem by Richard Wilbur. I feel it is perfect as it is. And lyrical.

        THE BEAUTIFUL CHANGES
        by Richard Wilbur

        One wading a Fall meadow finds on all sides
        The Queen Anne’s Lace lying like lilies
        On water; it glides
        So from the walker, it turns
        Dry grass to a lake, as the slightest shade of you
        Valleys my mind in fabulous blue Lucernes.

        The beautiful changes as a forest is changed
        By a chameleon’s tuning his skin to it;
        As a mantis, arranged
        On a green leaf, grows
        Into it, makes the leaf leafier, and proves
        Any greenness is deeper than anyone knows.

        Your hands hold roses always in a way that says
        They are not only yours; the beautiful changes
        In such kind ways,
        Wishing ever to sunder
        Things and things’ selves for a second finding, to lose
        For a moment all that it touches back to wonder.

    • thomasbrady said,

      March 18, 2016 at 7:58 pm

      Great question, Mary.

      A rejection of sentiment in all its glories—a fascinating topic. Is it unique to America in the 20th century?

      It might have something to with the Writing Workshop era, with poetry writing as something now done in colleges, in seminar rooms.

      The expression of love is difficult to do in front of a committee of your writing peers run by a writing professor.

      By objectifying poetry, you rob it of its subjective fire, perhaps?

  2. thomasbrady said,

    March 18, 2016 at 7:50 pm

    Hi Mary,

    I seemed to have accidentally erased this post of yours when I was correcting the other one. Sorry! Here it is:

    This is my favorite poem by Richard Wilbur. I feel it is perfect as it is. And lyrical.

    THE BEAUTIFUL CHANGES
    by Richard Wilbur

    One wading a Fall meadow finds on all sides
    The Queen Anne’s Lace lying like lilies
    On water; it glides
    So from the walker, it turns
    Dry grass to a lake, as the slightest shade of you
    Valleys my mind in fabulous blue Lucernes.

    The beautiful changes as a forest is changed
    By a chameleon’s tuning his skin to it;
    As a mantis, arranged
    On a green leaf, grows
    Into it, makes the leaf leafier, and proves
    Any greenness is deeper than anyone knows.

    Your hands hold roses always in a way that says
    They are not only yours; the beautiful changes
    In such kind ways,
    Wishing ever to sunder
    Things and things’ selves for a second finding, to lose
    For a moment all that it touches back to wonder.

    • maryangeladouglas said,

      March 18, 2016 at 8:31 pm

      Thomas, the workshop idea makes a lot of sense. It always seemed weird to me (poetry workshops). Why would you want other people looking over your shoulder as a lyrical poet? It’s a little crazy. Much less ‘correcting’ what you wrote. Kind of like correcting someoe’s soul: a good definition of the ultimate oppression.

      I can understand maybe classes on learning different poetic forms but there are people, many people or poets who learned the forms on their own. The concept of learning something on your own (self directed learning) flies in the face of the whole academic monolith which is really crazy because learning on your own, like walking on your own is a natural thing to do as a person. I think so anyway.

      I’m glad you got rid of my geographicfal mistake. It was a doozy. Thanks for reposting the Richard Wilbur poem.

      • thomasbrady said,

        March 18, 2016 at 11:01 pm

        Thanks, Mary.

        The English major (who studied the best poetry written in the past) has been replaced by the Creative Writing student (objectifying what ought to be subjective—personal writing— and making subjective what ought to be objective—the work of the past.)

        • maryangeladouglas said,

          March 18, 2016 at 11:22 pm

          I could not agree with you more. I have been trying to understand what happened but I couldn’t figure it out except to feel something is really missing here. You have definitely hit the very unproverbial and distressing nail on the head and I don’t think anyone else has done that this clearly. Like having the ground poetically speaking, forget the rug, ripped out from under your feet. What a heavy, heavy betrayal.

          • maryangeladouglas said,

            March 18, 2016 at 11:25 pm

            And in such a setting people with perhaps real and instinctive poetic gifts are misled to think they are realy expressing what they came to say, while it’s only the half-life radiating. Fits increasingly in though with the world that is eager to replace the flawed but beautiful human individual soul and personality with a data chip that will live forever as if that would be living to be turned into that.

            • maryangeladouglas said,

              March 19, 2016 at 10:16 am

              This poem was inspired by the incredible lapiz lazuli blue of the sari worn so beautifully (as though it were her soul colour as well) by the lady in the picture. She wears that colour like a poem too.

              THE THINGS I KNOW ABOUT THE COLOUR BLUE

              last lingering crayon in the drawer
              condensing the skies
              how you have flown by in my time

              like the sapphire wing of a bird
              and still can sing to me
              of then.

              let the grass be blue-green
              under a plum-white moon;
              the dews blues as well

              and she would sing the blue

              into flowers and this
              we called dusk or twilight,
              Grandmother said.

              I said,
              may it be the twilight of tears

              for things that don’t come back
              as year follows year
              but I’ll hold onto it still

              as onto a favorite dress with gauzy sleeves
              mysteriously, as if you were music.

              you seem to colour it all in:
              that feeliing when everyting
              slips away, again and

              bearing down on the paper
              a little harder each day
              before the cold sets in

              then we cloud whisper,

              “stay”

              mary angela douglas 19 march 2016

              • thomasbrady said,

                March 19, 2016 at 4:40 pm

                This poem has been shared on Facebook, Mary. I believe they know the author. They asked me permission. I said yes. I hope you don’t mind. Tom

                • maryangeladouglas said,

                  March 21, 2016 at 5:50 pm

                  Don’t mind anything of mine being shared as long as it has my name on it;fair is fair.

              • March 21, 2016 at 5:21 pm

                Honored dear Mary Angela Douglas. Thank you so much for this beautiful poem. will cherish it always. ….Nalini

                • maryangeladouglas said,

                  March 21, 2016 at 5:51 pm

                  Nalini, I’m very glad you liked it. I wish you well in your poetry life and life beyond poetry.

  3. noochinator said,

    March 19, 2016 at 10:32 am

    On Having Misidentified A Wild Flower

    A thrush, because I’d been wrong,
    Burst rightly into song
    In a world not vague, not lonely,
    Not governed by me only.

    Richard Wilbur

    Maybe Wilbur should be commended here for striking a blow against post-modern solipsism: a world not vague, not lonely, not governed by me only. (Yes, the desk should be thumped on the nots methinks, and not on “vague” and “lone-” and “gov-” as many would be inclined to do.)

    Sounds to me like Wilbur here is upholding the Scarriet banner, and striking a blow against reality-denying subjectivism — although some might deny this, since in the first two lines he says the thrush sings because he misidentified the flower…

    Can we look at the entire Priyadarshni poem?

    • thomasbrady said,

      March 19, 2016 at 1:12 pm

      Nooch,

      Yes, Wilbur can ride beneath the Scarriet banner. I agree with you that Wilbur’s line is a sweet and noble plea not to be obscure or selfish. Though it telegraphs its message a little obviously—the sin of the didactic—I do love the line and the poem.

      The trouble with all the formalists/neo-formalists is they didn’t listen to Poe; they apologized too much, they were too didactic and fastidious and didn’t understand that you do not do the art a service by forcing it into places it will not go. You don’t find delicate rhymes for some mundane observation: why bother? The gain here is a loss there. Neo-formalism wrecked itself on prosaic rhetoric—even as it pursued poetry.

  4. noochinator said,

    March 19, 2016 at 10:44 am

    It’s time for the 2016 Scarriet March Madness cheerleaders to take the floor — and look at those outfits, they’re wearing the cutest knee breeches!

    The Florist Wears Knee-Breeches

    My flowers are reflected
    In your mind
    As you are reflected in your glass.
    When you look at them,
    There is nothing in your mind
    Except the reflections
    Of my flowers.
    But when I look at them
    I see only the reflections
    In your mind,
    And not my flowers.
    It is my desire
    To bring roses,
    And place them before you
    In a white dish.

    Wallace Stevens

  5. thomasbrady said,

    March 19, 2016 at 1:18 pm

    A cheer that stomps! Fitted out by Wallace Stevens!

    O lord…

  6. March 21, 2016 at 5:15 pm

    Reblogged this on GOOD MORNING WORLD.


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