Damn, these are solid comments, y’all! I like the way you each respond to this from your own experience in a very heartfelt way. Let me respond to just a few points.
Rachel – so much of what you say about bringing the real resonance of the natural world into the written word resonates for me on a spiritual level as well as an intellectual one.
I think I’ve said more than once that for me the thing that makes the Tanakh my favorite religious text is the abundance of concrete, natural imagery in it. Not even Zhuangzi is as rich. That, and the fact that it is completely lacking in theology. Your word “resonance” should serve to remind us, though, that many if not most oral “texts” also abound with vivid imagery – The Ifa corpus is one very good example. Therefore I agree with scholars who suggest that many portions of the anthology we call the Tanakh/Old Testament are very close to their oral antecedants. (And note the repeated suggestion that wisdom and faith come from hearing, not from seeing.)
A bit of a digression there; sorry! As for presence, though, yeah, I think this is an almost universal preoccupation of poets. As Simic says somewhere in another interview, we never quite get over the astounding fact that time passes.
Theriomorph – a sense of oversimplified hyper-masculinity in some of his work
I guess I know what you mean. Simic has been heavily influenced by American blues lyrics from the 20s, 30s, and 40s (which I also love) so some of this might come from that.
I always feel more positive toward a poet when I hear that s/he’s a good mentor – and conversely, I’ve lost respect for poets who, I’ve found out, treated their students shabbily.
any review, interview, momentary discussion of a poet’s work (even their assessment of their own work) is going to encapsulate only one moment’s understanding of the work, one particular point about the work, and can then be used, without context or in a particular context, to make a point –
Excellent point! Couldn’t agree more.
And I share your discomfort with global statements about what poetry should do. It baffles me that so many good poets themselves seem to specialize in these kinds of statements. Poets are contrary – some (many?) poets are total assholes – but poetry itself can only arise from the utmost freedom of thought.
That Yoruba poem is not an atypical example of the poems in the book, BTW. I sure wish someone would either reissue it, or come out with a new anthology.
Cady May – Thanks very much for taking the time to share your reactions (and I’m not sure what you mean about “crappy writing skills,” but whatever). Yeah, I would venture to say that Simic hadn’t spent much time in the poorer hollows and coves of Appalachia when he said that. Probably his decades of residence in rural New Hampshire since then have taught him better. Here in the Tyrone, Pennsylvania area, heroin is rife, and an hour’s drive north of us, in one of the most rural parts of the state, is an area Newsweek magazine dubbed Meth Valley. Wholesome it ain’t.
The fact is, though, that the majority of our population is now neither rural nor urban, but suburban. Clearly, if poets want to be authentic these days, they must write about life in the subdivisions. :)