22 jul. 2005

Think of all poetry written in English in the twentieth century, in the U.S. and the British Isles and elsewhere. We have Pound, Eliot, and Auden, Zukofksy, Yeats, H.D., Stein, Larkin, Heaney, Langston Hughes and Ted Hughes, Sharon Olds, Susan Howe, Ron Silliman, Ted Hughes.

Ok, now think of a single word or concept that would encompass all of this. You know, "English-language poetry with its typical _______."

That should be easy, right? I certainly couldn't do it.

Now think of poetry written in Spanish during the same period. We also have more than one continent. Within Spansh America, we have several distinctive regions: the Southern Cone, the Andes, the Carribean, Mexico, Central America. We have avant-garde movements and neo-conservative reactions on both continents. There is politically engaged poetry and poetry that is written in opposition to this engagement. Poets who hated each other, like Jiménez and Neruda with their famous feud. I won't say there's as much variety as in English speaking poetry, but only because I don't know how to quantify such a thing.

Do you see where I'm going here?

7 comentarios:

Tony dijo...

Yep. Spanish poetry has too much damn duende.

And English poetry has two Ted Hugheses.

Jordan dijo...

At least two!

When what we really need is half a Flann O'Brien.

But are you saying, Jonathan, that it's much easier to characterize a different linguistic group's literature than one's own? very interested to have you spell out your meaning.

Hey Tony, do you ever use plastic chocolate molds?

Jonathan dijo...


My point is that I get tired of people talking to me about duende. It's a characterization of Spanish-language poetry that is based on one essay by one poet. It would be as though someone tried to extract one concept from TS Eliot that would be applicable to all poetry written in English in the US and England and Ireland and Australia. We can't think of such a concept in English-language poetry because we know too much. Knowing very little of a tradition allows for a ready-made stereotype.

Tony dijo...


I'm not sure what a plastic chocolate mold is. Why do you ask?

Bryan Newbury dijo...

Only in the interest of comparison, and admittedly my familiarity with poetry in the Spanish language in the 20th & 21st centuries bases itself almost entirely on Central and South American poets (where Pound again exerted such influence) it strikes me that the principle difference between English language (though our American version could use a Ted Hughes of its own) and Spanish, Turkish, Farsi, Norwegian or practically any other is that people seem to write poetry in other languages.

Though there are feuds, they tend to resemble the flaccid atmosphere of American poets, namely the university. I think one could observe this tendency of poetry becoming a parlor game in our First World societies by simply extracting the names "Olds", "Howe" and "Silliman" from the luminary list, leaving us with exactly ONE contemporary (and seemingly the one nontosser of the contemporary lot) in Heaney. He seems a bit of an exception.

Who would not concede that Spanish language poetry (not to be confused with Spanish L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry) has surpassed English language poetry in content, form, huevos and... life is the only way I can think to put it... ? I'd posit that there's a correlation between the Professional Poetry that has strangled the American version, the shadow of Hughes slowing the admittedly much more vibrant English scene and the simple fact that no one in the States or U.K. (not even Nick Flynn or Alan Dugan) can approach what Cardenal was saying or living.

If I had to boil it and blanche it, seems one can only compare the two by reaching back decades. Hughes is one of very, very few exceptions (where's the love for W.S. Graham?) to the rule that political/social/economic struggle makes for far better poetry. If you count "emotional" into the aforementioned, we find it in Hughes. Or maybe it is that Hughes knew how to work a field...

The diversity in English language poetry seems to come down to everyone eschewing the "agony of influence" and becoming a school upon oneself. Hell, they're all in school anyway, so why not?

Jonathan dijo...

I don't subscribe to the "social struggle makes better poetry" line at all. That's just pure sentimentalism. Neruda's social poetry is crap, for the most part. Try reading Miguel Hernández's war poetry. (Just for a few notorious examples.) That's just as reductionist as the "duende.." I can't even conclude that Spanish language poetry has surpassed English language poetry, even though I think Spanish has one of the richest traditions. If you think the British scene is more vital than the American, or that all American poets are University professors, you have a lot of reading to do.

Bryan Newbury dijo...

I see there's a hyperbole blocker in your comments section. I might rephrase: American poetry is dominated by universities. (Hell, even Gioia grants that.) It can be further reduced by saying that the bulk of poetry that is consumed by the casual audience (those without aspirations to publication, for instance) falls under this category. (One small example being the back pages of POETRY. The numbers there tell the tale.)

Regarding Neruda and Hernandez, I'd counter with Nazim Hikmet and Melih Cevdet Anday. People could go on all day volleying Justice, Lowell and Sexton with Graham, Kanik and Dugan. Social struggle might not necessarily make "better" poetry, but it is certainly more interesting than much of the solipsistic tripe one must endure reading contemporary American poetry.

And I would say the U.K. scene is far more compelling, which is a matter of taste and I suppose a bit of genetic predisposition...

Ah, but what do I know? I ain't got no fancy booklearnin' anyways. Back to my Conway Twitty records and Corn Squeezins.