In a recent conversation with a writer friend, he recalled his first and only poetry book that had been published years before with so much repentance to prevent me from getting hold of a leftover copy. I could see his embarrassment pouring all over his face, no matter all the accomplished novels that came afterwards. Writers are quirky creatures but that, dear ones, struck me as a little extreme. At the same time he suggested I’d set about to write my own poetry, if I really wished so, with a clear mind and taking up a job that’d allow me the time to do so. He was, in other words, encouraging me to pursue the path he had given up himself. And why is that? Because poetry – he maintained – is impossible to value.
I didn’t find myself 100% agreeing with that, partly due to my clearly outlined literary taste formed throughout the years and partly because I needed to believe the opposite. I needed to believe some things do overcome others, and that quality can be detectable, graspable when it comes to poetry. It dawned on me that if everything was equal, then we would have to lose the meaning. And the meaning was the last thing I wanted to lose.
In his precisely sharpened essay, Lerner writes: “The main demand associated with lyric poetry is that an individual poet can or must produce both a song that’s irreducibly individual—it’s the expression of their specific humanity, because it’s this intense, internal experience—and that is also shareable by everyone, because it can be intelligible to all social persons, so it can unite a community in its difference.” Yes, Lerner is right. And if poetry can’t be intelligible to all, it still means that it will always be intelligible to someone. No poem will ever go wasted. That’s what my friend referred to.
But still: “Great poets confront the limits of actual poems, tactically defeat or at least suspend that actuality, sometimes quit writing altogether, becoming celebrated for their silence.” So there is a borderline between meaning and gibberish.
Lerner’s essay on poetry does what all necessary works do: it answers some of the questions you had all along and fill you up with foreign ones. @fitzcarraldoeditions