Monday, April 18, 2011

Appreciation (35) … A poem a day…

Appreciation (35) … A poem a day…
Torrey Orton
April 18, 2011

I never much liked poetry…not enough to continue reading after university until many years later…the last 6 or 8 in fact. Les Murray shifted that a bit as I took seriously that he speaks for aspects of this wide brown, lately green, land which are important. So I undertook to read, and have read, everything of his in print… part of my self-australianisation, akin to learning successfully to like bush and dry and flat and gummy, and ever since starting 38 years ago seeing new bits for the first time here and there now and then.

As I'm writing this I also notice that I did not read poetry (except to complete requirements) because it was hard to read. Compared to philosophy of any kind (exception: symbolic logic, but then that's not reading is it?), poetry requires attention of the short but deep variety – one not natural to me who does long and deep effortlessly. I did not know to make the effort, which says something about how I was taught poetry – as a must do, a formal compliance presumed to be valuable.

The last past they got right. Because I read it under academic duress, I 'learned' it so to speak. I know about some poetry, as I do some music, without ever getting into it until recently, and still now with more a long view than the immediate one. And once again, an education is shown to be unpredictably worthwhile. In that education I read a canon or two because, in spite of my lack of natural inclination to the mode, it was given to be done by people and a system I respected and whose standards I was brought up earlier to aspire to.

Somewhere in graduate school I learned poetry was music, though I knew that from Plato's complaint about the insidious nature of poetry long before without hearing it. Somehow I heard the music a bit. Like many musics, poetry is varied and less or more accessible to different personal attunements and cultural conditionings. Mine was more Gerard Manley Hopkins than Wordsworth. I have a simple, engineering ear. And I never wanted to make music, so never learned to read it. Same thing with poetry? I did write one poem in 1971 and it seems that was enough.

So I bought Frederick Seidel's Poems 1959-2009 due to a long view review in the New York Review of Books a year ago where claims were made for his grip on America (hear a Murray-like attraction here again? Yup). And I've started reading them in a new way compared to my Murray experience - grazing them at first, not striving to get inside yet tasting enough to think I could later do so. From the graze I cannot immediately embrace Seidel like Murray but he seems also less local than I expected; he's more cosmopolitan?

In the end of this wander maybe I just don't have a very poetic inclination, or too much of the engineering one crowded it out. Having grown up in a musically competent household, I never caught the tunemakers bug which my siblings did. Genetic defect, cultural or ???

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