Thursday, April 26, 2007 13 Comments

Plague of Dead Sharks, by Alan Dugan

Most people these days think poetry is shite.

Certainly our glorious educational system generates a vast supply of Soviet toilet paper, coarse on the tenders and stamped with pure nothing. Certainly our glorious publishing industry seems to delight - I'm thinking primarily of the New Yorker - in selecting the blandest and most vapid plums from this great brown smorgasbord, and presenting them to the educated elite as though they were offering a silver bowl of egg-sized pearls to the Shah of Iran.

In fact there is just as much good poetry from the late 20th century as from any other period. Possibly even more. It's just extremely difficult to find. If anyone has any pointers, please don't hesitate to leave them in the comments section!

Here's a nice bit from a poem by Alan Dugan:

Plague of Dead Sharks

Who knows whether the sea heals or corrodes?
The wading, wintered pack-beasts of the feet
slough off, in spring, the dead rind of the shoes'
leather detention, the big toe's yellow horn
shines with a natural polish, and the whole
person seems to profit. The opposite happens
when dead sharks wash up along the beach
for no known reason. What is more built
for winning than the swept-back teeth,
water-finished fins, and pure bad eyes
these old, efficient forms of appetite
are dressed in? Yet it looks as if the sea
digested what it wished of them with viral ease
and threw up what was left to stink and dry.

Now that's some damned prosody for you. And Dugan, though I get the impression he was a bit of a Marxist (something no more objectionable in a poet than Christianity), is utterly free from the noxious Hallmark-hippie sentimentality, out of Whitman by M. Valdemar, dead for at least fifty years and reeking of committee, that fills your little magazines today. If you care at all for this sort of stuff he's worth a gander.


Anonymous PA said...

You might like these two by Czeslaw Milosz:

- A Conversation with Jeanne

- A Poem For The End Of The Century

April 27, 2007 at 10:38 AM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

Thanks. Milosz is sometimes a little hippie-ish for me, but when he's on, he's on.

Let me drop those in as links: Jeanne, Century.

Speaking of centuries, The Captive Mind has to be one of the five essential books of the 20th. Imagine a school where this was mandatory freshman reading! Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta are all around us yet - to say nothing of Murti-Bing...

April 27, 2007 at 12:33 PM  
Blogger C. Van Carter said...

Besides Geoffrey Hill?

I haven't read much else by him, but my favorite poem of the 21st century so far is Brad Leithauser's poem "A science fiction writer of the Fifties".

April 27, 2007 at 3:36 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

Mr. Carter, it's my duty to inform you that about a month ago I wasted almost three hours reading your entire archive. And I remain perturbed. I mean, are you sure it's good for society? Don't you care about society?

For me Hill has the opposite problem from Milosz: he can be frustratingly opaque and allusive. When he's on, however, etc.

I admire Leithauser's attitude, but his ear often leaves me cold. Does he have the funk? I'm not sure he has the funk.

This is my reaction to most of your new formalists. There was something in the water supply when they were turning out Hecht, Lowell, Sissman, etc. Perhaps the EPA is to blame.

(I just discovered Sissman thanks to Patrick Kurp. Look for some Sissman-blogging soon.)

April 27, 2007 at 3:54 PM  
Blogger C. Van Carter said...

I consider my archive a plan for a new, ideal society.

"he can be frustratingly opaque and allusive"

I didn't say I knew what Hill was talking about.

April 27, 2007 at 11:20 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

Certainly no questioning Hill's ear. He's up there with Bunting.

Funnily enough, last night I was dreaming about exactly that - the possibility of an entirely new intellectual infrastructure, a total reboot of our moldering cradle-to-grave indoctrination machine, schools, universities, press and TV, all of it, the lot, with Across Difficult Country as uber-portal and general cynosure, Greeley or Dewey or Ochs, infusing all with little Nockian notes of quiet, resigned disdain.

I'm afraid your Web design skills would have to take it up a notch, though.

Let me know if you're ever in San Francisco. It may not be Whitby but it has its charms.

April 28, 2007 at 9:55 AM  
Blogger ither said...

I must confess that, as suggested, I am one of those who don't like this kind of poetry, which reminds me more of Brautigam's prose.

Perhaps more to the point, am I alone in finding poetry in a native language (in my case English) emotionally difficult? In a foreign language I often find it moving, while in English my dominant reaction is that of displaced embarrassment.

April 28, 2007 at 11:21 AM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

I take it you mean free verse in general, or at least non-opaque free verse. No, I don't think there's anything at all wrong with this reaction. Every acquired taste is a learned absence of distaste.

Try some Joseph Brodsky or Anthony Hecht.

Reading poetry in a foreign language is really a completely different experience from reading it in your native language. Of course it is no less worthwhile - probably more in some ways.

April 28, 2007 at 12:41 PM  
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