… Trivial, Vulgar, and Exalted: Revisiting J. V. Cunningham’s “The Exclusions of a Rhyme”. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)
Cunningham was fascinated by the distillation of language, thought, and experience into wisdom. And so it stands to reason that, though he wrote and translated a variety of verse, his particular specialty was the epigram. The epigram is to poetry what the fable is to fiction. It is a pithy saying, a well-crafted proverb. Its purpose is to express an insight and, furthermore, to instruct, as briefly and memorably as possible.
I corresponded with Cunningham briefly in the ‘70s. I sent him a review I had written of his collected poems and collected essays. He wrote back and thanked me, saying it was nice to be praised for the things one would want to praised for. I asked him if he would take a look at some of my poems. He did, and told me I had perfected a style. Now I had to figure out how to use it. Good advice.