When we study Shakespeare on the page, for academic purposes, we may require all kinds of help. Generally, we read him in modern spelling and with modern punctuation, and with notes. But any poetry that is performed - from song lyric to tragic speech - must make its point, as it were, without reference back.
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The great cause of the new Republican intake is the reduction of the deficit but to anyone seeking evidence of sincere attempts at deficit-reduction the evidence is baffling. The Republicans showed before Christmas that they would seek to reduce the deficit but not when it came to a matter of the tax breaks that had aggravated the deficit in the first place. Now there's a date set for the abolition of Barack Obama's healthcare plan, parts of which only came into operation at the start of this month. The Republicans are out to destroy the plan. Or, more precisely, to pretend to destroy the plan in the name of making good on election pledges. The measure won't get past the Senate. But suppose it did get past the Senate, what effect would this have on the deficit? The answer is it would aggravate the deficit. Somehow, somewhere, there's an override mechanism that makes destroying Obamacare more important than destroying the deficit. If only one could figure out how it works.
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The Mistake With the mistake your life goes in reverse. Now you can see exactly what you did Wrong yesterday and wrong the day before And each mistake leads back to something worse And every nuance of your hypocrisy Towards yourself, and every excuse Stands solidly on the perspective lines And there is perfect visibility. What an enlightenment. The colonnade Rolls past on either side. You needn't move. The statues of your errors brush your sleeve. You watch the tale turn back - and you're dismayed. And this dismay at this, this big mistake Is made worse by the sight of all those who Knew all along where these mistakes would lead - Those frozen friends who watched the crisis break. Why didn't they say? Oh, but they did indeed - Said with a murmur when the time was wrong Or by a mild refusal to assent Or told you plainly but you would not heed. Yes, you can hear them now. It hurts. It's worse Than any sneer from any enemy. Take this dismay. Lay claim to this mistake. Look straight along the lines of this reverse.
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Lyric poetry is, of course, musical in origin. I do know that what happened to poetry in the twentieth century was that it began to be written for the page. When it's a question of typography, why not? Poets have done beautiful things with typography - Apollinaire's 'Calligrammes,' that sort of thing.
I've not been a prolific poet, and it always seemed to me to be a bad idea to feel that you had to produce in order to get... credits. Production of a collection of poems every three years or every five years, or whatever, looks good, on paper. But it might not be good; it might be writing on a kind of automatic pilot.
Saigon was an addicted city, and we were the drug: the corruption of children, the mutilation of young men, the prostitution of women, the humiliation of the old, the division of the family, the division of the country-it had all been done in our name. . . . The French city . . . had represented the opium stage of the addiction. With the Americans had begun the heroin phase.
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For poets today or in any age, the choice is not between freedom on the one hand and abstruse French forms on the other. The choice is between the nullity and vanity of our first efforts, and the developing of a sense of idiom, form, structure, metre, rhythm, line - all the fundamental characteristics of this verbal art.
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An aria in an opera - Handel's 'Ombra mai fu,' for example - gets along with an incredibly small number of words and ideas and a large amount of variation and repetition. That's the beauty of it. It's not taxing to the listener's intelligence because if you haven't heard it the first time round, it'll come around again.
Free verse seemed democratic because it offered freedom of access to writers. And those who disdained free verse would always be open to accusations of elitism, mandarinism. Open form was like common ground on which all might graze their cattle - it was not to be closed in by usurping landlords.
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Those who actually set out to see the fall of a city or those who choose to go to a front line, are obviously asking themselves to what extent they are cowards. But the tests they set themselves - there is a dead body, can you bear to look at it? - are nothing in comparison with the tests that are sprung on them. It is not the obvious tests that matter (do you go to pieces in a mortar attack?) but the unexpected ones (here is a man on the run, seeking your help - can you face him honestly?).
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A glance at the history of European poetry is enough to inform us that rhyme itself is not indispensable. Latin poetry in the classical age had no use for it, and the kind of Latin poetry that does rhyme - as for instance the medieval 'Carmina Burana' - tends to be somewhat crude stuff in comparison with the classical verse that doesn't.
Among those today who believe that modern poetry must do without rhyme or metre, there is an assumption that the alternative to free verse is a crash course in villanelles, sestinas and other such fixed forms. But most...are rare in English poetry. Few poets have written a villanelle worth reading, or indeed regret not having done so.
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Writing for the page is only one form of writing for the eye. Wherever solemn inscriptions are put up in public places, there is a sense that the site and the occasion demand a form of writing which goes beyond plain informative prose. Each word is so valued that the letters forming it are seen as objects of solemn beauty.
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Some of my educated Filipino friends were aspiring poets, but their aspirations were all in the direction of the United States. They had no desire to learn from the bardic tradition that continued in the barrios. Their ideal would have been to write something that would get them to Iowa, where they would study creative writing.
If you're writing a song, you have to write something that can be understood serially. When you're reading a poem that's written for the page, your eye can skip up and down. You can see the thing whole. But you're not going to see the thing whole in the song. You're going to hear it in series, and you can't skip back.
Some people think that English poetry begins with the Anglo-Saxons. I don't, because I can't accept that there is any continuity between the traditions of Anglo-Saxon poetry and those established in English poetry by the time of, say, Shakespeare. And anyway, Anglo-Saxon is a different language, which has to be learned.
What I want, when I write a poem, is no more than this: that it be preserved in some published form so that, in principle, someone, somewhere, will be able to find it and read it. That is all I need, as a poet, and that is the beauty, the luxury of my position. My lyric is mine and remains mine. Nobody can ruin it.
The term 'epitaph' itself means 'something to be spoken at a burial or engraved upon a tomb.' When an epitaph is a poem written for a tomb, and appears in a book, we are aware that we are not reading it in its proper form: we are reading a reproduction. The original of the epitaph is the tomb itself, with its words cut into the stone.
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