Feb 21, 2014

On Vitality...

David Mason
I generally don't care for omnibus reviews. They too often display what Seamus Heaney called a "faults-on-both-sides tact," and as a result one doesn't get a point of view so much as ad hoc approval or condemnation, often enough with less than half a dozen lines quoted from any of the books because the reviewer is so anxious to demonstrate his or her own prowess with words.

Of course, that "generally" in my first sentence begs the question of particulars. In the particular case of David Mason, I welcome all his reviews, even the omnibus reviews like this one in the new issue of The Hudson Review, because (a) he is unfailingly intelligent in his judgements, even when—not all that frequently—I disagree with them, and (b) he enjoys quoting at some length, which gives the poets under review a fair chance to be heard. The quotations are why, as soon as I finished reading the review, I immediately ordered all the books I could find by Stephanos Papadopoulos, a poet new to me.

Mason is also excellent at the sweeping but grounded statement. Viz.:
Most contemporary poets I read seem too concerned with avoiding ridicule, trying to be the smartest kid in the workshop, rather than plumbing what Eliot called 'the inexplicable mystery of sound'—bodying forth a whole charged expression of living. Much of our poetry seems denatured, flat. Intelligence abounds, cleverness is everywhere, but vitality is hard to find."
Consider that phrase, "a whole charged expression of living." The older I get, the less patience I have for anything less. It's easy to demand such accomplishment from others, of course, and a bit more daunting to demand of the poet in the mirror....


  1. "Intelligence abounds, cleverness is everywhere, but vitality is hard to find."

    Love it! Yes, very little 'music', very little 'passion' in much contemporary poetry.

  2. it just might have something to do with that our
    proliferation these days of poets and their poems
    don't know the difference between appreciation and fascination

    fascination (with anything/anyone/any word-image, etcs) is just what is on the surface
    appreciation deals with qualities ...

    imagination/passion/music/(one's own "voice") is
    always more important than Intelligence

    sounds to me like the thrust should return to a solid
    upon-which the impact of dreams are the (artist's/poet's) reality ?

    it also seems to me that
    (especially Poetry) has become
    too methodical
    too definite
    too predictable
    to either be useful
    or true....

    as perfect as this line
    she fell asleep anyway


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