MARILYN CHIN AND CHARLES SIMIC CLASH IN THE EAST

To judge a poet by their isolated lines is, of course, totally unfair.

But to look at a part helps us to understand a whole.

The speech of a poet can be compared to the paint of a painter:

We can study a painting up close so we see only the paint itself—and we don’t comprehend ‘the picture’ during these moments at all.

Or, we can stand back, and look at isolated parts of the painting, observing coherent parts of the picture: drapery, a tree, the surface of a lake.

To judge a line of poetry could be like viewing a painting at close range—and perhaps we can learn a little from this.

Have you ever looked at Byron’s poetry extremely “up close,” then T.S. Eliot’s, and compared them? It might be a helpful, even enjoyable, thing to do.

But since all the lines in this March Madness tournament were chosen for a certain isolated beauty or interest, they are more like coherent parts of a painting, where some of the picture can be “read.”

There is no way a great painting can be comprised of parts that are not also individually great. A clumsily painted face could not coexist with an excellent piece of drapery in an excellent painting. To admire the painting as an excellent whole, every part must be excellent, too.

If we search a poet’s work and have trouble finding excellent lines, our judgment of that poet must change, must diminish. We must come to the conclusion that the poet’s poetry was not as good as we previously thought.

To read a poem is not the same as knowing it.

In reading a poem, we are caught up in the forward movement of “the read.” We move through the poem to get to the end of our “read,” but do not really experience the poem as what it really is— or is not. The poem may be “good” as a “read,” to be read once. But it does not belong to a heaven of excellence, if its parts do not distinguish themselves as parts.

One doesn’t really know a person until one lives with them.  One doesn’t really know a poem unless we inspect its lines, its parts.

Charles Simic is one of the most distinguished living American poets.

But will he be smashed in this tournament, crushed by the reality we have outlined above?

His line, from one of the best poems in the 2015 BAP volume, is:

I could have run into the streets naked, confident anyone I met would understand.

Empathy for this line—and this seems to be Simic’s fate—really requires the poem.

Marilyn Chin is an American poet, born in Hong Kong, and educated at Iowa.  Chin has a passionate lyricism which is apparent in parts of poems.

It’s not that you are rare, nor are you extraordinary, O lone wren sobbing on the bodhi tree.

What is sporting is not always fair.

We think we know the outcome of this one.

 

 

 

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1 Comment

  1. maryangeladouglas said,

    March 22, 2016 at 5:37 pm

    The Marilyn Chin line is more a sob than a line;perfectly realized. It is exciting to think of poetry as painting and to distinguish between the forward motion of reading a poem to actually stopping awhile to see what’s really there. I find this a beautiful concept.


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