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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Reader's Diary #261- Elder Olson: The Poetry of Dylan Thomas (FINISHED)

I don't think I got much more of a perspective on Dylan Thomas than I did on poetry in general. I'm always looking to improve my own writing, and I think this book helped me get a little closer to defining the sort of poet I want to be. While I acknowledge his skill, I don't think I want to write much like Thomas.

It's been a common discussion in writing club lately about the value of poems being straightforward versus those that are a little more cryptic. There are two of us there in particular that, while being the two who push poetry the most, write very differently. She's the straightforward one, I'm the cryptic one. I know of course that mine aren't unsolvable riddles by any means, but I'm still challenged from time to time as to why I don't just come right out and say something. My usual response, that it's more fun to read poems that present a little challenge, seems to fall on deaf ears. And rightfully so. It seems a rather weak argument. Why is it more fun? Sometimes I feel like a poser (or is that poseur?), writing in enigmas simply because of a childish notion that that's just what poets do.

Fortunately, Olson was able to put into words what I could not:
...properly handled, the cryptic excites curiousity rather than disgust, returns
the reader again and again to contemplation of the work until the problems it
sets have been resolved....Obscurity, like clarity, is not a criterion but a
device of art.
Matt recently said that one of the reasons that he avoids poetry is that it feels "too abstract" for his tastes. And that I guess is the crux of the issue. Olson might be able to justify the mystery, but our personal tastes define the boundaries: when does beating around the bush become a bore?

Getting back to Dylan Thomas for the time being, Olson defends Thomas's ambiguities by arguing that it was seldom done pointlessly, and that the effort of interpretation is usually rewarded "most handsomely." I haven't read through all of the selected works yet, but so far I haven't decided that the amount of work needed to decipher some of Thomas's poetry is worth the payoff. It's a personal thing I guess, but when Olson suggests that a reader might "provide himself with a seasonal star-map or one of the clever and inexpensive star-wheels" to better understand his (Thomas's) "Altarwise By Owl-Light" sonnets, I don't think I'm just being a lazy ass by deciding not to bother.

12 comments:

Fearless said...

Blah, blah, blah...more poetry mashups please!

Matt said...

I feel left out of a lot of discussions on book blogs because I don't read poetry. I'm going to try some out to see if I like it. And like I mentioned earlier I'll be checking out the suggestions you gave me.

On a different note, John, I'll be posting a review of Blindness later today if you're interested in seeing what I thought.

John Mutford said...

Fearless, In other words, Dance Monkey Dance! Right? Actually, I would love to be posting another one, I'm just having a harder time coming up with ones that fit together well...These things take time!!!

Matt, I'm surprised to hear other book blogs mentioning poetry. Most of those that I've come across seem to avoid it like a plague. Any in particular that you remember?

Looking forward to that Blindness review!

Matt said...

The one blog I can remember off the top of my head that mentions poetry is So Many Books.

Fearless said...

No pressure, I have tried to come up with some musical mashups myself and still have yet to make a good one. You're 2 for 2, so that's something already.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Your comment about the amount of work required to decipher Thomas' poetry made me realise why I don't often read poetry - I'm too lazy.

I feel much better now that I have come to that realization.

John Mutford said...

Matt, thanks for the recommendation. Imagine my surprise to find she's also reading Never Let Me Go right now!

Fearless, I had wondered if you had tried your hand at musical mashups. If studying the masters is any help, I'd say you're well on your way. I'm curious as to what songs you've tried and why you don't think they've worked- assuming you're willing to share.

Barbara, Yes, laziness is a beautiful thing. Reading poetry can be a lot like exercise. Too easy, and you don't feel any better afterwards. Too hard, and you know you're never setting foot in the gym again.

Allison said...

I shall stand alone here in my like of Thomas. In my move I uncovered one of my anthologies of his works, I'm going to have to re read (as its been awhile) and see if I find it more or less cryptic now, then before, I'll let you know. I'm still in the school mindset of analyzing everything, so we'll see.

John Mutford said...

Allison, You don't actually stand alone here unless you like all of his works. He does have some that I enjoy ("Do not go gentle into that good night", "the force that through the green fuse drives the flower", and "My hero bares his nerves"- which I just discovered). So far though, the ones I like are vastly outnumbered by the ones I don't like. I do like to analyze just not to the extent that I think necessary for Thomas's poetry.

Fearless said...

One of the reasons I have had issues with making mashups is, I get brilliant ideas, but then can't find an acapella or an instrumental of the source material and when it comes to making DIY versions, I suck. Another reason is I can usually get them in key, but getting them in time is difficult for me. My mashup that made it farthest off the drawing board was a blend of Madonna's Frozen and Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit. Another one I worked on for a while was The Beatles' Eleanor Rigby and Husker Du's Don't Wanna Know If You Are Lonely, but my DIY instrumental of Husker Du was cack, and the BPM differential was so great that Paul McCartney ended up sounding like Darth Vader when I tried to match them in the middle.

John Mutford said...

Fearless, I agree that while McCartney doing a Darth Vader impression would be amusing, it would probably lose its charm very fast. It's the mashups that mess around too much with the vocal speed to the point where they sound like chipmunks or like a cassette on low batteries that are my least favourite. Still, I like the connection you were drawing between the two songs. I hope you keep at it!

Dale said...

I think poetry's much easier to write than read. When it comes to things like this, I'm lazy like a Barbara.