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.


Anonymous Jane Blue said...

It's good to see you're keeping up with your promise to update once a month. I don't have any examples of pompous poems, but I'm sure I have plenty stowed away. I still wanted to comment on your Meadowlark poem. Why would it be pompous? Anyway, I think when a poem originates in a dream, it is a good thing to say that in a title or somewhere in the poem. Dreams inherently are private and don't make much sense. Then the stuff about the puppies playing does. Also, I don't associate meadowlarks with flying. I'm sure they do, but I've only seen them sitting on posts. They have nests in the ground and are known for their distinctive voice. So I am a little dissatisfied with the end.

10:53 AM  
Blogger Atasi Jaan said...

Brad, your comments are hilarious. I'm jealous of the originator of the "pompous" remark. Seriously, poets live under so many surfaces, and I can hardly (probably will never) be convinced that within the context of human social contructs, poets and their poetry could qualify as any less than gems, at times effaced, some glowing, and some just fading over time.

9:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, I found your site while doing a search for collectible dolls & teddy bears. Wow, love your site. It really was a pleasure to read.

12:22 PM  
Blogger Victor Schnickelfritz said...


Sorry. I went for pompous but all I got was disgusting:


I wrap my life in aluminum foil
for the kids to find me later
on a shelf in the fridge
where I can linger past
my freshness date,
knowing I serve
to sate their hunger.

I could be collectible bear
stuffed with the soft filler
of my adolescent dreams of
grandeur. Now I'd settle for
simply being necessary,
not stuck in the dust motes
on a ledge, overlooking
the pranks of my five year old
passing out of his adorable stage.

I am the last move left on
the chess board, still insistent
that king is slain by pawn.
I argue with dusk's lamplight,
draw moustaches on the well-groomed
models in Sunset magazine.
I am angst mixed with venom,
roiling. My body hiccups, growls,
and burps. It attacks.
I publish my deadliest farts
in the air-conditioned air.

Perhaps it is pompous to think of one's farts as publishable, but as a connoisseur of farts and author of The Seven Continents of Flatus I do believe there is a market among like-minded stink-raisers.

10:25 AM  
Blogger polarpaul said...

I think there is nothing wrong with writing poems that others may find pompous. There is certainly a wide range of poetry and poetry readers so you can't expect to please everyone all of the time. By the same token, if you have a specific audience in mind, it'd be more crucial to pay close attention to the comments from the members of this audience.

4:50 AM  
Blogger thebadpoet said...

Hi Dr. B,
I have no issues with your being both an academic and poet; therefore I really find no fault or "Pomp" in you language. I especially enjoyed "The Fall." Sorry, but although I have plenty of novice poems in progress, I have none which are "Pompous," only juvenile and bitter. Keep doing what you are doing with the language you have at your disposal.

11:09 PM  
Blogger Anna said...

Very nice blog. I don't think the poem under discussion is pompous (though the other two are nice, mild examples of the genre), but it made me wonder - are poems about writing or poetry inherently pompous?

All the best for the new year, sir.

9:25 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home