peter hyland

No One Would Ever Say That

[Much thanks this morning to Elisa Gabbert, who sends thoughts on plainspokenness. – BB]

Over at the new Ploughshares blog (I wrote for it back when it was a humble blogspot), Peter B. Hyland is talking about accessibility and the closely related (in poetry at least) matter of “plainspokenness,” as “plainspoken” poets (such as Billy Collins, he offers) are less intimidating and considered “more convivial.”

It’s a familiar idea that poetry should sound like speech. But Hyland doesn’t claim this; instead, he suggests that “maybe there’s no such thing as plainspoken poetry,” using “The Red Wheelbarrow” as an example of a seemingly plainspoken poem that doesn’t really sound like how people talk.

This reminded me of a post I read years ago (in 2007) on Jonathan Mayhew’s blog:

I learned something quite significant from this. I learned that C Dale Young and I do not speak the same language, poetically speaking. I searched through a recent poetic sequence of mine, The Thelonious Monk Fake Book, to see whether I use words like dark, sadness, chest, hands, water, rain, body, silence. Generally, I don’t use these words very much if at all. Where my vocabulary coincided the most with his was in an Ira Gershwin lyric I happened to be quoting at one point. “Holding hands at midnight , ‘neath the moonlit sky.” I did use “blue” a lot, but that was quoting the titles of Monk tunes, mostly.

It’s no criticism of C Dale’s excellent book of poetry of course to say that I simply couldn’t bring myself use words like that (very much). To me they are *poetry words.* In other words they might correspond to what the average person expects to find in a poem. I don’t like depending on an identifiably poetic tone. On the other hand I’m sure my own *poetry words* would be just as embarrassing, if I knew what they were… If I did know I’m sure I would be obliged to ban them, viewing them as crutches that I was better off without…


Craft Notes / 117 Comments
March 18th, 2010 / 10:43 am