Saturday, March 01, 2008

life has forced me

Here’s another piece I like; it’s by Tony Towle:


I am the friend of South America,
I grew to like it enormously;
and then reached out across the oceans
to the rest of the continents,
getting to know many more places and people.

I had the best sense of humor in South America,
but life has forced me with its disappointments
into bitterness and idiocy.


Do you like it, too?

Why would one like it?

Do you ask yourself that question much? It brings to mind the standard American Bandstand answer to the rate-a-record question (you’ve just heard snippets of two songs, and you announce which one you prefer, then comes Dick Clark asking, Why do you like that one?): “It’s got a nice beat. You can dance to it.”

I sympathize with the speaker’s journey in this poem – from optimism to bitterness. I like the simple abbreviation of a life’s experience, a few lines. I like the absurdity of the personification of continents, the reduction of their people to an epithet (not in the insulting sense). It feels like testimony and like a goof on testimony, a memoir full of heartache but circumspect on the details.

Are there other works with similar characteristics, yet which I would dislike? I suspect so. This is one of the things about criticism -- when you say, “Ah! This is good work!” – you think it’s good because you like it. That’s fine, isn’t it? The notion that there are objective criteria by which any random piece of art could be judged and found great or inadequate is an unfortunate one. Yet we don’t want to just say, “I like it.” Because that isn’t very interesting either. A good critic talks about the work in a manner interesting independent of whether you agree with his opinion. Can you respect a critic whose writing you enjoy but whose opinions you find ridiculous? I doubt it. Some agreement must be necessary. I like it best when a critic presents samples – first the praise (or condemnation) then the excerpt with which the critic has engaged. A convincing argument – followed by the proof.

That, there, isn’t that wonderful? Um. Tell me again why you think so?

source of poem: Another World: a second anthology of work from the St Mark’s poetry project, edited by Anne Waldman


Jim Murdoch said...

When I've given my poems to people in the past, people who do not write poetry and read very little, the responses fall into two distinct camps: a) I like it, or b) I don't get it. I've never had anyone that I can remember say to me they didn't like one of my poems. A few have used a could-do-better tone but that's about it.

It is frustrating, at least I find it so, because I want to know what I've done that works but even when I've pressed people they have expressed an extreme reluctance to explain or even discuss their feelings. I don't mind that their response is primarily an emotional one rather than an intellectual response but it still bothers me that I can't get closer to an understanding of what it is that I've done right.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

You're not alone, Jim!