Friday, February 27, 2009

The greatness business ...

Poetic greatness has recently become a subject of much discussion. I should have confined myself to what I said here: Not to worry ... But I didn't. So ...

As that earlier post was meant to imply, I don't think we are in a position to decide who is the greatest poet of our era. That takes the perspective of time. When we declare a contemporary poet to be the greatest we are just saying that the poet in question is our favorite. I suppose my two favorite contemporary poets are John Ashbery and Kay Ryan. Asked to choose between them, I would choose Ryan. It's a matter of temperament. Her outlook and style - in particular its concision - are slightly more in tune with mine than his. When I initially encountered Ryan's poetry, it was love at first sight and nothing has changed since.
Bryan Appleyard has described himself as a craven fan of Ashbery's (what other way of being a fan is there?). I think this in part is because Bryan is extremely sensitive to the purely musical dimension of poetry and Ashbery's usually sounds gorgeous. But there is good deal more to it than that, as this John Ashbery Review of his makes plain. One of the things that makes that review so good is the intensely personal nature of the repsonse it conveys. That is how great poetry is supposed to affect people. Bryan also senses that, beneath Ashbery's blithe surface, there runs a darker current that may well be tragic.

1 comment:

  1. Seconded. Speaking of greatness, BA inked perhaps the finest interp of "Hallelujah" in existence; drool-worthy, in other words.

    (Well, had to mention you know who somewhere today :).)

    [*Waves to mes amies et les autres, aussi, natchurlly"]