Is poetry democratic, or is it radically individual?
This argument is a good one, for both sides have a lot to say: language unites us, but what price to simply roll us all into a ball?
And yet what price obscure triviality?
Like all good arguments, to prove there really isn’t an argument at all is what the intelligent try—be accessible and unique: surely that’s possible?
Perhaps it’s not that easy. Imagine you are at the podium in front of a crowd during the swearing-in of the president of the United States. How can you possibly go for the surprising and the unique?
A podium in front of millions is surely where poetry goes to die. Four years ago, Richard Blanco fought against that death with this:
One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes tired from work.
This line marches along with a certain poetic solemnity: we like how “one sky” is echoed by “our eyes.”
And what could be more uniting than “one sky” and “tired from work?” We can relate.
Perhaps this is all poetry is really striving for. To speak for as many as possible, and to truly speak for as many as possible is all the poet can finally do.
What is the counter-argument? Write a poem for this person, but not for that person.
Surely the universal is the best?
Connie Voisine, we get the feeling, did not write her line for the podium. She was probably feeling reflective and calm.
And yet—her line may resonate just as much with the millions. Why not?
The oleanders are blooming and heavy with hummingbirds.
Though we must concede that if someone knows exactly what oleanders look and smell like, they will like her line more. Isn’t that true?
Marla Muse: Do you know what an oleander looks like, Tom?
Marla, I pass.
What’s interesting is hummingbirds are not heavy. That’s the poetry, many would say.
But as for oleanders, yes, how much does the audience know? That matters, of course.
But does that in any way alter the formula? Write to as many as you can?
Blanco wasn’t taking any chances: “sky,” “eyes,” “tired,” “work.”
How safe is safe in March Madness?
Marla Muse: Not very safe.
Sky versus oleanders. Only one can win.