Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Pomp and Circumstance

Sometimes any feedback is good feeedback, but I was somewhat dismayed to find the following comment posted about "The Stepford Widow" last month: "The language seems pretentious and too academic. Try to unveil your language. You are a professor but you don't have to keep reiterating this fact in your poetry. Your comments about Stepford Wives also lends to an air of pomposity..."

I guess it might be unfair to suspect that people who can't manage to quote the poem's title accurately or organize correct subject/verb agreements ("comments/lends") in a sentence might have a grudge against academics. It's also probably pedantic to ask for specific examples of "pretentious" and "academic" diction in the poem (I did inquire for examples, but got no answer). Finally, I have no idea what "unveiling" my language might mean. I mean, that's a metaphor, right? So the poster was using a metaphor to tell me to...stop using metaphors? Or stop doing something that confuses him/her, at any rate. Which is not a meaningful criticism, really. I generally try to say what I mean, and not to "veil" the "meaning" of the poem unnecessarily. In the case of some poems, though, the meaning isn't quite clear to me, because the idea or metaphor originated in a dream (this is true of both "Stepford" and "Meadowlarks")

All these defensive objections aside, though, it is, of course, inherently pompous to have a poetry blog, and to make and invite comments about one's own work on that blog. What could be more pretentious than thinking one's poetry matters?
So guilty as charged, and proud of it. Sort of. I will also happily confess that I have written more than my share of pompous poetry, though I try to use my own b.s.-detector to avoid foisting it on the public. But after our friend the anti-academic critic's denunciation, I went in search of recognizeably pompous or pretentious balderdash I have written, and came up with the following two examples. You think I'm pompous now? You ain't seen nothin' yet.

On Defacing Library Property

A butterfly lands on my book—
suddenly, illustrated work takes shape—
but the new page, folded up
and whisked away before I can think,
casts its frontispiece on the concrete walk
of an autumn garden.

The slippery cat hunts publication,
with no luck. A spotted folio edition,
black and orange, flaps wide and shut,
a hinged portal onto print...
I tear a leaf from spine and root,
blot words, then fling them into art.

It IS pretentious to make one's bad habit of damaging library books into an artistic credo. So this poem has stayed safely buried in the computer files, until today.

From the Unreported Plane Crash

The white birds circle and rise to perform
a sudden, poorly synchronized swim
above the airport, then settle down
between the runways on the pond
they had abandoned almost as one...

We take off in our jet and burn
our separate beeline slowly, straining
disparate horizons, only
joined for moments until the end,
the choreography of feathers
melting as we tilt to the sun;
but if by luck this scrawled page flutters
down into your expectant hands
we will have gone the birds one better—
publish all my important poems...

This one is maybe even worse, though it has a quasi-plausible defense. I was very much afraid of flying, post-Sept. 11, and this one was written on a plane just before takeoff. But how lamely self-conscious can you get? THIS is pompous, my friends, even if it's paranoia too.

I invite you to comment, post your own pompous musings or effusions, or name famous and pompous poems. Robert Frost's "Fire and Ice" comes to mind:

Some say the world will end in fire;
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To know that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

I just love the sneaky, gloating yet obscure tone of "from what I've tasted of desire." I had a friend read this to me once and could never take it seriously again.