I am planning to select a new poem each Monday and write about it. I figure most people could use a dose of poetry on that day more than any other in the week, and it’s high time I say more about things worth talking about. My plan is to present the poem (or a link to the poem) and then talk about what is so great about the poem and what is so great about the poet responsible. That’s all.
My most significant understanding of the purpose of literary criticism came from an undergraduate seminar I took with Stephen Booth. In that seminar, as in his excellent book, Precious Nonsense, he explained that the highest aim of criticism is to explain why a poem is so good. So many critics try to explain the meaning of the poem, or to craft a kind of poetry around the poetry through their own wordsmithing and speculation. In the end, explaining why the poem affects us the way that it does is a far more meaningful (and challenging) pursuit.
I won’t attempt anything like formal criticism, in fact I think the very word has gotten a bad reputation in our world–due in part to an emphasis on one of its meanings, “negative feedback”, and also due in part to so many critics across all disciplines who have earned notoriety through negativism. Instead, I hope to give insights into why a poem works, why a poet matters, and in doing so to share my love of poetry.
Far too many people, upon hearing of my interest in poetry, have confessed that they feel they don’t “get” most poetry. I think this is a sad statement that we as poets and we as a culture have simply not tried hard enough to make poetry accessible. The road toward elitism leads to an art disconnected from the very humanity that must be at the heart of all enduring creative expression. The truth is that poems are meant to be enjoyed, savored–experienced, not understood. I can only imagine that far too many people have been shamed into believing they misunderstood a poem by some cruel and clever teacher or colleague–not unlike the scores of horrible experiences brought on by misguided piano teachers and choir masters which my wife finds herself continually working to undo in her own profession.
And so, I offer this–hopefully a small remedy to poemophobia, an open and accessible invitation into a world I do adore.