Friday, June 29, 2007

Poetry Friday, Reader's Diary #280- Marie Harris and Kathleen Aguero (Editors): An Ear To The Ground (FINISHED)



Before even starting, I should note that I'm a bad poetry reader. Oh I read a lot of it, and I enjoy it, but I'm lazy with it. I rush it. Sometimes I even just read a poem once (for shame!). But occasionally, even in my haste, I happen upon a poem or two that catches my eye. So yes, many good ones probably get away, but I've found a few keepers anyhow.

My reading habits weren't much different with this particular anthology of contemporary American poetry either. Yes, I appreciated them, almost all in fact, but it's doubtful many will stay with me.

Remember when Walt Whitman burst on the scene? Of course not. But we're told it shook the foundations of poetry to the ground (or something to that effect). I imagine it would have been refreshing to read a poet who broke away from those stuffy old rhyme schemes and forms. He liberated the language in a way.

The problem is, later poets failed to realize a lot of his appeal was breaking the rules, the use of language in novel ways. Why does it seem like the only major change to poetry since Whitman is shorter, choppier lines? And it's not that I don't enjoy new poetry, I like a lot of it. It's that, because of my lazy reading habits, such poetry can be repetitive. And if it's repetitive, it's not going to jump out at me, nor inspire me to read a few more times to see what's going on.

If Whitman were alive today, maybe he'd be writing form poetry. Honestly, I still prefer free verse, but I have to admit, the form poetry of An Ear To The Ground stood out and made the larger impression on me. It's odd that, of the few poems that I expect to remember, some were sestinas (by both Jan Clausen and Minnie Bruce Pratt) and sonnets (by Joan Larkin).

Fortunately, Kate Rushkin proved that free verse hasn't died just yet. She's represented here with two poems. The first was a great narrative poem called "Why I Like To Go Places: Flagstaff, Arizona- June 1978". But the poem that really stood out for me, was her "The Black Back-Ups". In this poem she borrows the chorus from Lou Reed's "Walk On The Wild Side" and uses it for herself, uses less formal yet more believable phrasings such as "Get offa that damn box", and generally just knows how to have fun with the language. My favourite verse from this poem goes:

Aunt Jemima
Aunt Jemima on the Pancake Box
Aunt Jemima on the Pancake Box?
AuntJemimaonthepancakebox?
auntjemimaonthepancakebox?
Ainchamamaonthepancakebox?
Ain't chure Mama on the pancake box?

It's a deliciously fun poem which on the surface looks to be about the crucial but relatively unrecognized role of black women in pop culture. But when you take the time to go back and read it again, as I was finally inspired to do, you see it's not really restricted to pop culture at all.

Maybe Whitman wouldn't be writing sestinas after all.

2 comments:

MyUtopia said...

interesting poem. Have a great weekend.

John Mutford said...

Thanks MyUtopia, You too.