She on Honey-dew Hath Fed

Because of the hard freeze after the snow last night, there is a good bit of ice on the roads, and Georgia Tech, in its infinite wisdom (and, as a great morale booster after the obnoxious furloughs last month), decided to delay opening campus until noon.

That was very nice, but I was planning on staying home to work today anyway because my office, with its one 100% busted heater and its other 87% busted heater, has been like Superman’s frozen Fortress of Solitude this past week.  (I suppose, to be more poetic, I might have compared it to Coleridge’s “sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!” but my office is neither a pleasure-dome, nor sunny, though the caves of ice bit is real enough.  Anyway, the week before school, my office is pretty solitudinous.)  Then, I just happened to go back to the GT website, and lo and behold, they’ve closed the campus for the day.  So, ta-da!  We have a genuine snow day.

Despite a rejection I just received, I’m feeling especially inspired to write today.  Chris just said of the snow on the ivy, “It looks like tiny little white flowers, doesn’t it?”  And it does.  When I lived in Nebraska, an inch of snow would be de rigueur, and people would practically walk around in shorts.   Here, an inch of snow closes down the city, and I find myself looking out the window in my sunroom at the “tiny little white flowers” and the sun through the kudzu-covered pines and feeling a lightness in my heart that I haven’t felt in a while–and a desire to write about the wind, and the black birds thronging the trees in the distance…

Speaking of “Kubla Khan,” I just read the last few lines (which I love, love, love) out to Chris and commented that they (meaning the Romantics) really knew how to use sound.  And he said something that was really insightful (don’t be so shocked, Bob!)–“That’s because they didn’t have the white noise that we do.”  And I think that’s absolutely right.  I don’t think poets use sound to its best effect any more–the musicality of poems just doesn’t seem to be there.  And I am as guilty as my other poet peers.

I’m not saying we need to go back to rhyme, although I’ve been noticing a trend lately where rhyme is becoming retro-cool, but where is the music in poems these days?  Why aren’t poems as sonorous as they used to be?  Why have alliteration and consonance and repetition fallen from favor?  (Assonance is perhaps the last hold-out of sound–I know, for instance, with the DYPS, Blake is always looking for ways to repeat vowel sounds in his poems and ours, and I appreciate it.)

I think, in some ways, white noise really has dulled our ears.  We are inundated with the sounds of “progress” and technology, and so maybe we don’t want to have to hear anything else.  As a culture, maybe we’re all a bit ADD.

Anyway, the approach to poetry has shifted.  Because it’s become a reading activity, as opposed to a hearing activity, writers place less emphasis on how a poem sounds, and more on how it looks on the page.  The only time we ever hear poetry out loud is at a “reading”–a formal space where the Poet (TM) delivers a set of her poems to a passive audience, and who then offers her books for sale, so the poems might be read silently, in the privacy of the audience member’s own home.  It’s not really a communal activity any more…  Maybe I’m waxing nostalgic for the pre-industrial days (you know, like 200+years ago, when none of us were around) when families and friends sat in their drawing rooms or libraries and read poetry to each other.  (Although, perhaps that is an idealized image, brought on by watching too many Jane Austen movies.)

Anyway, I blame academic poets for this shift.  Since poetry on the page is more important than poetry out loud, poetic musicality is passe.  I think my fellow academic poets (and me, to an extent) are afraid to use some of those literary/ sound devices for fear of being thought quaint or, Goddess forbid, Longfellow- or Poe-esque.  (Eep!  Can’t have that.  Our collective response to that thought–it must be said–is “Nevermore.”)

About the only place where I consistently hear poetry that pays attention to the way the words sound is at the quarterly Georgia Poetry Society meetings–and these aren’t academic poets by a long shot.  Now, many, many of those poems sound bad–they use rhyme, meter, and repetition criminally.   I won’t lie.  But for the ones that are well done, the attention to sound really elevates the work in a way that I always find surprising–which tells you how infrequently I hear poems that are written to please the ears.  Those are the poems you want to hear out loud, could listen to more of.

We academic poets could learn from that, but we fear, we fear, we fear.

4 thoughts on “She on Honey-dew Hath Fed

  1. Thanks for the post, JC. Maybe you should have an informal poetry gathering to celebrate the snow day? My brother once had an aural potluck where everyone had to bring a noise to share, some people read poetry they wrote, others made musical instruments, while one person brought poprocks and soda for all the guests.

  2. I love the written word – the more poetic the prose, the more satisfying to me. However most ‘modern’ poetry looses me, or I loose it. I read aloud and find myself adopting the artificial cadences of the current Spoken Word syndrome and sensation is lost in the droning. I am agreeing with you. I read for visuals, for insight, for sensory experience all of which can float on the music or scatter onto the dirt of the words. Too often it is the latter.

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