Some months ago, I actually read a poem in The New Yorker. Normally I don’t notice them; I’m a cartoon and journalism guy, but this one, by Michael Robbins, had a grabby title—“Alien vs. Predator”—and one killer line (“I translate the Bible into velociraptor”) after another (“But where’s the whale on stilts that we were promised?”). I loved it, of course.
Also, I had no damn idea what it was about. None.
That pretty much gists you on my engagement with poetry: I can dig the micro, the individual turns of phrase, but the macro point mostly eludes me. Is poetry meant to be an intensification of thought, feeling and language into something purer, more essential, than conventional speech can deliver? (Then why is so much of it indecipherable?) Formal word games more about the structure of the poem than any “literal” meaning? (Then, aside from academics, who cares?) Or is it just an acquired language, like velociraptor?
Hit me up at [email protected] if you have the answer.
While I wait for you to jam my inbox with wisdom, I could do worse than to begin looking for clues at Kay Ryan’s keynote speech for the Vegas Valley Book Festival. Ryan is the country’s poet laureate, and according to noted poetry authority Wikipedia, “Ryan delights in quirks of logic and language and teases poetry out of the most unlikely places.” Well, okay! No whales on stilts, but it sounds like a good start.