Sunday, May 22, 2011

brilliant enders


Jonathan Mayhew is currently trashing Charles Simic in a flashback rehash of the whole Simic/Creeley question.

I thought then and still think Simic has a good point about how much/how little, what quantity, of a poet's work will finally be distilled down to, his figure of 80 pages is close to the 90 I suggested was feasible in an earlier post here.

But don't take Simic's word for it, or mine (or Mayhew's)— take RJ's:

Randall Jarrell, in "The Third Book of Criticism," page 65:

"Stevens's poetry makes one understand how valuable it can be for a poet to write a great deal. Not too much of that great deal, ever, is good poetry; but out of quantity can come practice, naturalness, accustomed mastery, adaptations and elaborations and reversals of old ways, new ways, even—so that the poet can put into the poems, at the end of a lifetime, what the end of a lifetime brings him."

(Creeley to me has always seemed a very readable poet, comparatively easy to read. When I say a poet is readable I mean it as a compliment, as an admirable virtue—)

Speaking of writing a great deal: in this same book, Jarrell devotes 18 pages to The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens—

and an equal number of pages to the The Collected Poems of Robert Graves.

Is Jarrell right (and can one apply this to Creeley and every poet):

"Not too much of that great deal, ever, is good poetry . . . ."


One of my observations in that earlier post was that by restricting her output Bishop was closer to Larkin than to Lowell . . .

add the pages of their Collected Poems and get a total hundreds less than the latter's Collected . . .

Count the pages. But who's counting, and what counts—

Not too much of Lowell's Collected is good poetry: according to Jarrell, that is.


Speaking of Larkin, I came across this recently in Peter Levi's biog of Tennyson:

"Tennyson (like Auden) is one of the most brilliant beginners of poems, as Larkin is one of the most brilliant enders . . . ."