I'm embarrassed to say that I just finished reading Wordsworth's "Preface to the Lyrical Ballads" for the first time in my life, and all of a sudden, feminist experimental poetry makes all the more sense to me. For starters, I tried my damndest not to be offended every single time he spoke of how poetry = man, the soul of man, manhood, mankind, etc. But it got to be too much after a while, and it became clear that he really was talking not about "man" the species but "man" the gender. Lines like this really got me: "But various causes might be pointed out why, when the style is manly, and the subject of some importance, words metrically arranged will long continue to impart such a pleasure to mankind as he who proves the extent of that pleasure will be desirous to impart." I forgive him, of course-- he lived in a different era. At the same time, it's not like there weren't women writing poetry when he was writing- there was Charlotte Smith, Anne Finch, even his own sister, Dorothy, was a writer and poet. I find it more ironic than anything- that this piece of writing is aimed at making poetry more accessible through its language structure, aiming "to choose incidents and situations from common life, and to relate or describe them, throughout, as far as was possible in a selection of language really used by men." But no, really I'm over it. . .I think. . .
Anyway, I'm embarassed because this really is a pivotal piece of writing from which a majority of contemporary poetry gains its authenticity and power-- I should have read it by now. (I've also yet to read Moby Dick- don't tell anyone. They're lible to hold my PhD hostage!) Not to say that we would still be writing in verse if it were not for Wordsworth, but things would surely look different. As far as my focus on the lyric poem as a form, this piece is also crucial in the movement from a stress on meter to a stress on emotion, which carries a lot of contemporary still today and seems to be a component in poetry that is "cherished." This often tends to be the type of poetry that bores me to tears- poetry whose sole purpose is to make the reader "feel" something specific and profound without really even thinking about it. You want an example, you say? I stumbled across this Mary Oliver poem on poetry daily- aside from containing the most blatant and forceful pathetic fallacy I've seen in years, its just plain sappy and melodramatic.
See for yourself:
Song for Autumn
In the deep fall
don't you imagine the leaves think how
comfortable it will be to touch
the earth instead of the
nothingness of air and the endless
freshets of wind? And don't you think
the trees themselves, especially those with mossy,
warm caves, begin to think
of the birds that will come — six, a dozen — to sleep
inside their bodies? And don't you hear
the goldenrod whispering goodbye,
the everlasting being crowned with the first
tuffets of snow? The pond
vanishes, and the white field over which
the fox runs so quickly brings out
its blue shadows. And the wind pumps its
bellows. And at evening especially,
the piled firewood shifts a little,
longing to be on its way
Yuck. It's plain-spoken, alright. But to a fault if you ask me. That's my 10 cents, not that anyone asked.
I also had a meeting with my advisor on Tuesday and we talked about how I need to work on focusing my prose writing and following my train of thought all the way through to some sort of conclusion that ties things together. From the paragraphs above, it's obvious that she is right on the money with this critique. I think this blog will be a good place to practice this skill, as I don't want my exams to be a random smattering of ideas with no connective tissue or some strange wandering path through the thick brush. Though if this was something that was considered a skill, I would be in luck cause I do have some mad skilz.