Magazine article Humanities

Soul Says: On Recent Poetry

Magazine article Humanities

Soul Says: On Recent Poetry

Article excerpt

THE SIGNIFICANT poem, for me, can be about anything, or almost anything. I have never been drawn in a positive way to subject matter: that is, I do not respond more enthusiastically to a poem about women than to a poem about men, a poem about nature than a poem about the city, a political poem than a metaphysical poem. Though I grew up in a city, my favorite poems, from Keats's "To Autumn" to Stevens's "The Auroras of Autumn," have often been ones using metaphors from nature; I have liked Protestant poets (from Milton to Clampitt) and Jewish poets (from Ginsberg to Goldbarth) as well as Catholic poets (from Hopkins to Peguy); though I can read only Romance languages, my two indispensable contemporary foreign poets are Paul Celan and Czeslaw Mitosz, whom I cannot read in the original. Though I am white, I could not do without the poetry of Langstem Hughes and Rita Dove. I have written on both gay and "straight" writers. I bring up these questions of locale, religion, language, ethnicity, race, and sexuality because these days they appear so much in writing about literature, and because there is a jealous appropriation of literature into such socially marked categories.

At first I found it hard to understand, when such categories were ritually invoked, why people felt they could respond only to literature that replicated their own experience of race, class, or gender. I heard many tales beginning, "I never found literature meaningful to me till I read . . ." and there would follow, from a woman, a title like Jane Eyre, or, from a black, a title like Invisible Man. …

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