I am very pleased to say, that as I have grown older I have learned to enjoy more and more things — poetry is one of those. Poetry use to always bother me but, trying to be open-minded, over the years I have forced myself to read poetry again, and again. And low and behold, almost like red wine, I began to acquire a taste for it. And now, being somewhat sympathetic to the form, I feel safer exploring some persistent dislikes. So, I am going to use a few posts to complain about poetry. My complaints are thus not about poetry as a form, but about particular ways some people try to use poetry or the word “poetry” or their idea of “poetry”. Today I’d like to describe my dislike for the false sanctity often ascribed poetry.
In McMahan’s book I found an ally. Here are some quotes from his 5th Chapter entitled “Buddhist Romanticism”:
Prior to the Romantics, the job of the artist was to act as a mirror reflecting and imitating the world. This conception runs from Plato up through the Renaissance and into the Enlightenment. The Romantics rejected the metaphor of artist as mire for the metaphor of the artist as a lamp that illuminates something new through the artist’s unique vision of imaginative powers.
–McMahan 2008: 119
Modern European and North American culture’s reverence for the artist, its allowing the artist to stand to some extent outside society’s conventions, its picture of the artist as feeling things more deeply than others, its romanticization of the artist (of course!) emerged in this period to be endowed with an almost priestly or shamanic ability to conjure hidden aesthetic and spiritual realities, to transform the mundane into the sublime through the freedom of the creative imagination, and to plumb the hidden depths of real and give them unique expression.
–McMahan 2008: 120
The Romantics bequeathed to our age a sense that “what [artists] reveal has great moral and spiritual significance; that in it lies the key to certain depth, or fullness, or seriousness, or intensity of life, or to a certain wholeness”
–McMahan 2008: 146; Taylor 1989:42
Many poetry lovers buy into this romanticized view of poetry. These romanticizers find some voice in poetry and then try to make the whole form into something far more special than it actually is. This is not just a fault of some poetry lovers, but it is tendency of mind that can be seen everywhere — this blog is full of posts trying to illustrate this tendency in religious realms. A person may find some self-pleasing form of Buddhism and next thing you know they are off on a mission to defend all of Buddhism–giving their idealized abstraction of Buddhism all the flavors of their favorite version. Some Christians do the same, by defending Christianity in general. Negative versions of this mental habit exist to exist also: Anti-religion atheists find the favorite things they hate in a religion and try to color all things touched by religion with the same. Hopefully by discussing the tendency in something as potentially secular as poetry, I have better illustrated another one of our insidiousness habits.
Questions to readers:
- What do you love about poetry?
- Do you agree with me on the above observations?