A review of Every Riven Thing, Swan and Walking Papers

Two questions for today: First, why read poetry? I mean, really—who cares? Who has the time, not to mention coin, when you could be reading tremendous novels and stunning essays? And second, what is great poetry? Is there really such a thing, or is the idea merely a canard sold by a cabal conspiring to foist such inaccessible murk as The Waste Land on us by calling it great when you know and I know that no one understands hardly a shred of it?

Some tiptoeing toward answers: Poetry is "memorable speech," said the (great) poet Wystan Hugh Auden, "about birth, death, the Beatific Vision." Or, in less lovely words: good poetry, great poetry, is the distilled salt and song of the way we speak; it is espresso speech, perhaps; it pierces and penetrates and illuminates, it makes us see fresh.

 

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