Monday, January 25, 2010

A poetry of place

Had a good talk with Pablo this evening about the ways in which certain poets transcend time and place and become poets of that place. The most obvious one is Whitman, it is the project of his life to write an American poetry (one that easily goes beyond nation borders). Pound is a poet who does this with the Cantos, and Williams does it through the whole of his career. Neruda does it (we had some uncertainty here on how effectively--there is the problem of how Neruda does have a tendency to change a lot, but if one takes the early poems, takes Residencia and Macchu Picchu, etc). Stevens does not--more of a philosophical poet writing of a place that resembles a place. Nor does Eliot because his place is more about the absence of culture or cutural decline than it is about making it or representing it. Mistral gets it in her last book, but too thinly. Snyder wants to, so does MacGrath in Letter to an Imaginary Friend, but there's too much history there. The whole point in the transcendence is that it almost needs to be ahistorical.

This of course led to a digression on poets of love and here it was interesting to come back and see Whitman as a great poet of love as well (Neruda fits in here well, as do so many others). But it's an interesting reminder of how much Whitman means in the whole conversation about poetry from the late 19th century to present. It's hard to imagine, too, the idea of a poet writing today who would be willing to take on a life's project of a single idea (place in time, outside of time, place defined and expanded) the way Whitman does (and to an extent, Williams, Pound and Neruda do).

Nice conversation. Which started with a question I had about Enrique Lihn, who I am reading now and who is a good read but there's something not quite there. He's not as compelling as Paz, but it's a quality I find in Paz too, a need to see beneath the surfaces (here Paz is more rewarding than Lihn). This moved us to Vicente Huidobro whose Altazar I have not read but will soon enough (waiting only for delivery).

A good night to talk about poetry. The semester starts tomorrow and I am getting in the mood.

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