Editor's Note: " 'It has sometimes been said that contemporary poetry,
however technically brilliant, lacks statement or vision.' " Mississippi Review asked contributors to address this proposition for a special poetry
Several years ago I was invited to contribute an essay on my poetry to a collection. I found the task daunting, yet in searching through criticism for a viewpoint close to my own (thus perhaps authenticating it), I found a passage in T. S. Eliot which struck me as fully suggestive of my own view. It is from an unpublished lecture on English letter writers quoted by F. O Matthiessen in The Achievement of T. S. Eliot and D. H. Lawrence is the subject. Eliot refers to a passage in one of Lawrence's letters, which runs: "The essence of poetry with us in this age of stark and unlovely actualities is a stark directness, without a shadow of a lie, or a shadow of deflection anywhere. Everything can go, but this stark, bare, rocky directness of statement, this alone makes poetry today." And here is Eliot's comment:
"This speaks to me of that at which I have long aimed, in writing poetry; to write poetry which should be essentially poetry, with nothing poetic about it, poetry standing naked in its bare bones, or poetry so transparent that we should not see the poetry, but that which we are meant to see through the poetry, poetry so transparent that in reading it we are intent on what the poem points at, and not on the poetry, this seems to be the thing to try for. To get beyond poetry, as Beethoven, in his later works, strove to get beyond music."
In the light of such an intense poetic credo it is very moving to read the poet's Four Quartets. But I had a comment of my own to make on the Lawrence and Eliot passages:
To get "beyond poetry," then, to avoid the hateful evidence of our will to impress (thereby perhaps losing that ambition), those handsprings and cartwheels, the heavy breathing down the line, so common to "early work"