Scarriet’s wildly successful essay, Why Poetry Sucks Now, [May 16, 2013] published almost 3 years ago and with more readers every day, is due for a sequel.
Not because of anything in the news. Poetry still sucks.
The Modernist revolution which destroyed poetry was about one thing: the image.
The modernist poetry movement, “imagism,” got the ball rolling.
The modern art scam overlapped clique-wise, with the poets.
Gertrude Stein (poet and art collector with her brother, Leo) studied with William James.
Poets Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot’s lawyer was John Quinn, a modern art collector who made the 1913 Armory Show (introduce the European modern painting to America) happen.
John Dewey was part of the early 20th century buy-low-sell-high modern art scam, explicitly elevating abstract art over representational art in his series of Harvard lectures, Art As Experience, dedicated and written for his friend A.C. Barnes, wealthy modern art collector.
Duchamp arrived in America to party with Walter Arensberg, wealthy modern art collector whose friends included poet W.C. Williams of Red Wheel Barrow fame.
Painting, keeper of the image, destroyed it.
Poetry, the temporal art, embraced it.
The con was two-sided and weirdly related.
Money (gold) versus Wisdom. And who won?
Art critics and ‘buy low-sell high’ collectors teamed up and built modern art museums to validate the scam.
Modern Poets and modern poetry critics (known as the New Critics—the tweedy, respectable-seeming wing of the revolution) wrote one highly influential textbook, Understanding Poetry.
These poets and critics also began the Writing Program era, which took the study of literature away from literature as literature and put it into the hands of “new” writers teaching “new” writing.
When we despair today at how much poetry sucks, we should turn our eyes to the image, for that one small idea hoodwinked everyone.
Modern poetry began its journey into pretentious mediocrity with an idea:
Poetry which centers on the image is an advance over the old poetry which does not.
What is unbelievable about the influence of this modernist movement (similar to a bowel movement, in that many were pushing it) is the following:
First, the idea is bankrupt. Old poets didn’t use images? Really??
Second, it was introduced by a few cranks who put out a few issues of wretched little early 20th century modernist magazines no one read.
This, of course, was Pound, and a few of his friends, in London, leading up to World War One, borrowing from haiku (a recent rage due to the 1905 Japanese victory in the Russo-Japanese war) and giving their coterie a French moniker: Imagistes.
The whole thing would be laughable. But it is not. Because it caught on, far, far beyond what it actually was. The hoodwinked hoodwinked others and the hoodwinking accelerated, and took on a life of its own.
None will deny the mundane truth of what we are blandly asserting.
The first step in destroying poetry was Pound’s Imagiste circle before WW I. Then his school chum’s “Red Wheel Barrow,” then a poetry textbook (Understanding Poetry) that was taught in all the schools starting in the 30s, put together by their friends the New Critics, and then Paul Engle (Engle’s Yale Younger was awarded to him by a member of the New Critic circle) began the Writing Program at Iowa– Robert Lowell, the first star Program teacher at Iowa was sent to study with New Critics, Tate and Ransom, by Lowell’s psychiatrist, and—you guessed it—this psychiatrist of the family Lowell was part of the New Critics. It couldn’t be any more bizarre. And successful. The New Critics were good at exploiting academic and federal education ‘money and influence’ connections.
If you look at any educated discussion of poetry today, whatever issues might pertain to it, its history, its practice, its appeal—and we are talking about all poetry—the name Ezra Pound, the term Modernism, the idea of the “image” as something “new” which left behind the “old” poetry of Victorian temporality and rhyme, will either be directly referenced or be the unspoken, underlying trope in 99 cases out of a hundred.
Another mundane point of fact: the New Critic authored textbook Understanding Poetry singles out for high praise Pound’s Petals on a wet black bough imagist poem, his friend WC Williams’ Red Wheel Barrow imagist poem, and uses an Aldous Huxley essay to ridicule the popular poetic rhythm of Edgar Poe.
Who, and what, Pound and his small circle of friends really were, and what their so-called “idea” actually was, is perhaps 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times less meaningful than what its subsequent influence has become, an influence that has created mass psychosis in poetry. It is one of those things in human history that cannot be fully comprehended.
But there you have it.
The image, in poetry, has beaten meter (the temporal, rhythmic aspect of old poetry) into submission.
True, there’s been a revolt against the small, tame, “imagist” poem—one thinks of something like “Howl,” the sort of blah blah blah poem which is far more common today than any poem which makes imagery its god.
But the point here is that in the 20th century imagery was the cudgel that crushed all the beauties of sound which once belonged to poems.
And to make your language sound good, you have to be really good at that language. It goes along with a truly good education.
The ubiquitous charge against the bad, “sing-songy” poem is legitimate. Writing poems of exquisite rhythm is very difficult to do. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. Or that we should pretend banal prose has rhythm.
Today one can still hear every learned, respected, inside academic poet and critic talking about how important the image is, how the image is figuratively and literally, the thing, the only thing that really matters. Because the image (and recall the Writing Program and Imagist advocates are the same) “shows instead of tells.” That’s the Writing Program mantra: Show Don’t Tell. (Like abstract painting: don’t depict, like the old historical painters; just show us shape and color.)
The Modernist, Imagist, Poetry/Modern Art P. R. Machine, for practical, money, power-grab reasons, effectively destroyed, in a couple of years in the 20th century, the wisdom and practice of two millennia—centered on this once-upon-a-time, common-sense notion—one which must seem very strange to the currently brainwashed “poets” and “artists”—Painting belongs to picture and poetry belongs to music.
We’ll say it one more time: Painting belongs to picture and poetry belongs to music. This is the old truth that has been overturned.
Painting is now conceptualist propaganda, as drawing and perspective are dying out, just like great poetry.
Poetry has come to mean bad, chopped-up, prose, and has no real public.
Reality has been flipped: Painting is blah blah blah. And poetry can’t write a memorable sentence.
Poetry’s latest foray (see Kenneth Goldsmith) is towards conceptualist propaganda (see painting).
Painting’s beauty and truth is spatial in nature, and depicts a moment of reality, using all the wonders and advantages which belong to the eye. Poetry’s beauty and truth is temporal in nature, and depicts moments which unfold, using all the wonders and advantages of the ear.
The tone-deaf, scheming Modernists took one look at the common sense of two millennia and said, “Nah.”
And you wonder why poetry sucks now?