Trying, Trying, Trying…I know, I know…it’s been a while. Sue me.
Cannot praise enough Robert Conquest’s latest article in this month’s New Criterion. Basically his “Apology for Poetry” and his “Function of Criticism at the Present Time” rolled into one. This portion, in which he discusses form in poetry, is one of my favorite sections (and, no, not just because he quotes Kingsley Amis):
Much has been published over the past decade or two that has something of the appearance of form, but relaxed, or dissolved, to the degree that it is really no more than an overextended type of free verse. We have indeed noted that this can also be said of verse reaching us from the other pole of arid academicism. There are, of course, many people on all sides who are in one way or another interested in poetry but not for poetical reasons.
Kingsley Amis once wrote me, “The trouble with chaps like that is that they have no taste—I don’t mean bad taste, just the mental organ that makes you say This is bloody good or This is piss is simply missing, and they have to orientate themselves by things like ‘importance’ and ‘seriousness’ and ‘depth’ and ‘originality’ and ‘consensus’ (= ‘trend’).”
Even if its proponents did not say that all obscurity is profound—and some came near to saying that—they certainly implied that all profundity is obscure. But a muddy puddle may pretend to any depth; a clear pool cannot. Coleridge writes somewhere that he read one of Dante’s shorter poems every year for ten years, always finding more in it. This did not mean that it lacked comprehensibility at first reading, merely that in this comprehensibility there were resonances that did not immediately declare themselves.
Here’s the link.