Some thoughts on contemporary poetry

Remember when I asked if peanut farmers could save poetry?  I decided to put my money where my mouth is and bought “I Have to Go Back to 1994 and Kill a Girl,” a collection of poetry by Austinite Karyna McGlynn.  I will be the first person to tell you that I don’t know much about contemporary poetry, but I want to learn.  And I think supporting artists is the first way to get there.

What struck me about this collection of poetry off the bat is how modernism is still exerting its influence nearly 100 years after The Waste Land.  There’s a certain raw quality about McGlynn’s poems that nevertheless seems painstakingly constructed.  A spider’s web, if you’ll forgive the expression.  In some instances it works; not so much in others.  The poems are thoughtfully organized into a loose narrative of memories.  I’m only halfway through, so I can’t tell you whether or not the collection ends with a bang or a whimper.  It’s looking good so far.

As I thought about this post, I wanted to say a few words about poetry in general.  I think it would be fair to say that most people do not immediately enjoy poetry.  I myself didn’t until I was 20, and even now would pick up prose before poetry.  I have a few theories on why this is so.  For one, poetry is inherently tied to form.  When we learn about poetry, we learn about sonnets and rhyme and heroic couplets long before we tackle content.

When I was in high school, we were taught TP-CASTT, a way to analyze poetry to gain meaning.  Looking over the procedure now, it’s no wonder we hated it.  We were never taught to appreciate poetry for its aesthetic pleasures, for the feelings it could create within us.  Poems were always “problems” to figure out and we were taught to solve them like a quadratic equation.

Some of that training lingers within me.  Where are the rhymes?  What is the meter?  But Karyna McGlynn’s collection is a useful antidote.  Some of her poems, such as “When I Came to There Was a Pearl and a Fish Hook,” are organized into two (sometimes three) columns.  You can read the lines across the gap in the page, or you can read them like newspaper columns, reading the first until you reach the bottom of the page, then going back to the top of the next.  Lyrically, semantically, the two methods work, somehow.  Not being a poet, the process is somewhat mysterious to me.  And that mystery of form is echoed in the poem itself.  It’s like smoke drifts across my imagination and I’m viewing the events as a distance spectator.

I’m sure this technique has a name but I don’t really care to know what it is.  It’s enough for me to feel the  poems rather than analyze them.


One thought on “Some thoughts on contemporary poetry

  1. Amateur Reader says:

    TP-CASTT! That's horrible! Can you imagine anyone with any actual love of language – or just curiosity, or anything more than indifference – coming up with that?I think the observation about modernism is right. Poets are still working through the implications of that bundle of ideas from 100 years ago. Modernism gave poets so much freedom – I like the idea of the poem in columns that can be read in more than one way.I half agree with the idea that people do not immediately enjoy poetry. Counter-examples: nursery rhymes, songs, hiphop, rope-jumping chants.

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