Sunday, May 21, 2006

Reader's Diary #91- Enos Watts: Space Between The Trees (Up to "Doing Time")

I've whined a lot about poems which reference Greek mythology. And while I'm still not in favour of them, I've altered my reasons thanks to this book.

I had said before that my biggest beef with the Greek references, was that a reader shouldn't be required to have a degree in Greek mythology to understand a poem. I stick to that, but my biggest problem with the Greek stuff is how it's overdone. I've read a lot of poetry collections over the past two years, and I swear that I can't think of a single one that didn't have at least one poem that drew a connection to Hades, Persephone, Homer, Adonis or some such figure or place. Are poets truly enraptured by these old stories or are they just doing what's expected of them? If they are fascinated by these stories, that's okay- but at some point for a reader it becomes very boring. I suspect that many are writing about them because it's what poets do (which I'm sure no one would admit to). Since when were poets were ever supposed to be predictable?

Two of Enos Watts' poems in particular illustrate my point about the effect of Greek overkill in poetry. The first is "Imitatio Rosae: To a Poet, Dying" and the second is "Speer at Spandau, Remembering". The first poem is about some long dead Italian poet named Giambattista Marini and contains references to Homer, Dante, and Ulysses. The second poem is about an imprisoned Nazi leader, named Albert Speer. Now which poem is more compelling? Who was I more interested in researching, or reading more about, Marini or Speer? I'm sure Marini was an interesting fellow in his time, but the poem about Speer is certainly the more fascinating one, wouldn't you think? I'm not saying that I read poetry to learn, but when there are biographical poems about people I hadn't heard of, I could be drawn into learning. That's not going to happen if I'm bored to tears by yet another poem about the Greeks. In fact, the reason I read poems is primarily to be entertained. And that's not likely to happen either as long as poets keep recycling the same old stories and topics again and again.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

I think that poems which deal with the modern condition are the only ones to which I can relate, not having a degree in Greek history either. Besides, our lives are valid as well and certain fertile fields for poetry.

John Mutford said...

Well said! I do understand that the "modern condition" may not always be as unique to our times as we'd like to think (unless we're only content to read about global warming or something), and that if it's based around human emotions or even thoughts, chances are it has some historical precedent- however, we don't need to keep running back to Greece to find examples.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Exactly, ancient Greece had it's time - let it go. I understand the importance of remembering history, but not at the expense of experiencing our lives now.