Thursday, March 01, 2007

Auden and Stevens and Caring about Poetry

On Tuesday night I went to All I have is a voice, the celebration of the 100th anniversary of W. H. Auden’s birth. It was a starry event in the poetry world populated by distinguished poets and even Christopher Hitchens, the well-known writer and political commentator. It was a good evening, though long and for some reason I left very tired. Perhaps listening for over an hour and a half. The culmination of the evening, however, was hearing Auden’s voice from 1966 as he read a poem at Oxford. It was quite delightful. The best thing about it, however, was being there in a filled audience of people who cared about poetry. That can never be underestimated.

I’ve also been reading Wallace Stevens prose. Actually, that is too general to me. I’ve found the essay, “The Irrational Element in Poetry,” in Steven’s Collected Poetry & Prose and I just keep rereading it. I feel like I’ve found something special and of course I feel like Stevens in talking just to me, though a google search indicates others have read this and found it meaningful. I’ve actually been reading this essay for ten days now and have been afraid to write about it. Afraid that to say, look this is important, would somehow diminish it’s importance. That is of course irrational, but Stevens would understand. This is a brilliant essay because it explains why it is so important to be in a community of people who care about poetry.

Rereading some of Stevens’ poems has also been important to me because the last time I read Stevens seriously was when I was an undergraduate. So reading those poems is a bit like having a dialogue with my younger self - I was an undergraduate eighteen and nineteen years ago. It’s reassuring to the younger self, who of course worries that we’ve lost our way doing too much political work and no paying attention to language, and it’s fascinating to my older self to remember what we loved then and see how what we love is similar and different today.

The Stevens’ essay has also come to me at a time when I have been trying to explain to my beloved what this graduate program in creative writing means to me. She asks, “What’s the end game? I mean I knew when I was in law school that I would be a lawyer and make money, but you. A poet? There is nothing in that.“ And how can I argue. What is in that. So little and so much. And it is a moment of anger and those moments pass and poetry needs both the anger and the passage to flourish. And Stevens. The essay, ”The Irrational Element in Poetry.“ For me it has had some answers, not ones that I’m yet ready to share with my beloved, but ones that I find reassuring and nourishing. And for now, that is what matters.

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