Lynch “THE LEAST YOU SHOULD KNOW” APPROACH FOR POETRY Professor John Lynch Additional Online Readings for this lecture: Lawrence Ferlinghetti, “Poetry As News” at “What is Poetry?” Section 1: AN INTRODUCTION TO POETRY What is poetry? This question is often a starting point in literature classes for gaining an understanding of poetry. Is this a poem? Read it and jot down your opinion:
Lynch This is Just to Say I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox and which you were probably saving for breakfast forgive me they were delicious so sweet and so cold William Carlos Williams, 1934
Lynch Take a moment and write your reasons for why this is, or isn’t, a poem, then look back. Did you say that it isn’t a poem because it doesn’t rhyme? What other reasons do you have for it not being a poem? Perhaps it doesn’t seem to have much meaning, beyond its obvious meaning of a note of apology for eating plums. As a matter of fact, this poem by William Carlos Williams and the well-known “The Red Wheel Barrow” are famous examples of Williams’ modernist contribution to poetry, when the equivalence of word with image was a bold and innovative statement for a new generation of modernist poets. ‘It is enough simply to perceive the plum I am describing,’ Williams seems to be telling us; look here, can you taste it? Can you exist in the moment I am writing about? And as a matter of fact, when we read the poem, don’t our mouths pucker at the taste of the plum, so sweet and so cold ? As to rhyming, while our general concept of poetry is that it should rhyme, the fact is, famous poets such as Walt Whitman and many others have been writing free, unrhymed verse for over 100 years. Because poetry is the very iconoclastic form it is, it defies easy classification. Some might say that this introduction is overwhelming with the many ways it offers to read and analyze poetry. William Carlos Williams simply wants us to taste his plum; isn’t that enough?
Lynch In the city of Los Angeles, poetry is enjoying a Renaissance. Go to a poetry reading any night of the week and hear wonderful poets, singing their hearts out (metaphorically speaking, of course). Some of you may even write your own poetry. One of the earliest and most abiding forms of self-expression, poetry has always been, said the French writer Voltaire, “…the music of the soul”. WHAT IS POETRY AND HOW IS IT DIFFERENT FROM PROSE? So, we are back to the question, “What is Poetry?” Spend a few minutes reading through the website titled “What is Poetry?” at the top of this lecture. Better yet, print it out, read through it, and star*** the definitions you like the best. One of your discussion post assignments for this week will be to choose a definition from this list, and then explain how one of this week’s poems fits the definition. Here are just a few of my favorites: “Poetry is to prose as dancing is to walking.” Paul Valery
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