Beautiful and Pointless

I just finished reading Beautiful and Pointless (A Guide to Modern Poetry) by poetry critic David Orr. His audience is, ostensibly, the uninitiated, casual poetry reader. He takes such a reader from his or her naïve expectations about poetry being a personal story, for instance, to an understanding of the poet’s mind when exercising the craft of writing a poem. He leads the reader through the enormous changes in poetry writing during the twentieth century, from abandoning form to democratization via the GI Bill. Poems are no longer for the elite.

Most amusing, perhaps, are the chapters on Ambition and The Fishbowl. He compares Robert Lowell, Ambitious to Be an Important Poet, to Elizabeth Bishop who was, well, not ambitious, but who is more respected and influential today. And The Fishbowl takes poetry into academe and the spider’s nest of relationships between student and teacher, teacher and critic, poet and judge…it’s enough material for a good murder mystery.

The last chapter, Why Bother?, is mostly about Orr’s own affection for poetry instead of all the other possibilities out there. Early in the book, he quotes Robert Browning, from “One Word More,” 1855, writing about an artist’s interest in another art form: poets for painting, painters for words. Orr says Browning’s point is that it’s too easy to do what comes naturally and the artist wants –needs – to express what is beyond what he has expressed before.

I myself am a victim of desiring one art form while practicing another. I observed that the thing I do most often, most easily, is writing, so I decided to make writing my priority. This blog is intended to help me keep that focus and reinforce it. And yet…and yet…I am distracted constantly by my other interests and I long for more time – more time! – to pursue all of them. Still, even as I try drawing or painting, designing or dancing, I know that the thing I do most often and which is easiest for me is…writing. So writing will remain the core of my expression. I do not expect it will be the only claim on my attention, just the most important one.

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