New Poet Laureate of the United States
Yeah, I’m unpleased with the choice of Charles Simic for United States Poet Laureate. His poems are good, sure, but they lack variety and energy. He tends to write elliptical free verse quatrains in a delicate and humorous voice, parceling out one or two strong images or contradictions in each poem. They come across as attractive koans, and they’re just fine, but does he compare to Donald Hall, the current Poet Laureate, in terms of dynamism and expressive spirit? I just don’t think so.
Speaking of dynamism and expressive spirit, doesn’t it seem like yesterday that we were welcoming Donald Hall as the incoming Poet Laureate? I’m trying to think of a single thing the esteemed (by me, anyway) Mr. Hall has done with this lofty position, and I hate to say I’m coming up empty. Somebody’s been resting on their laurels, so to speak. I guess I will welcome Mr. Simic into the role, despite my misgivings, in the hope that he’ll do more with the position than his predecessor has.
Others have remarked on the possibility that the new PLOTUS may speak out on global issues, but unfortunately I think of Charles Simic as a poet who pretty much stays “in his box” — publishing slim books, collecting awards and grants. I hope he proves me wrong, but if not, let’s see the Library of Congress make some crazier choices next year. Gary Snyder? Jorie Graham? Robert Bly? Bob Holman? Saul Williams? Ron Silliman (wouldn’t that ruffle some feathers)? Past US Poet Laureates have made their presence felt with this position, and we’ll have to see if Charles Simic turns out to be the poet who can make something happen.
Stephen Fry’s New Book
Stephen Fry, the British comedian and writer, has produced a superb introduction to the art of structured poetry, The Ode Less Travelled. Fry does two things right: he’s useful (laying out the most important vocabulary terms in a highly readable fashion) and opinionated. Fry is rather a freak for classical English poetry, leaning very heavily on the likes of John Milton, Robert Browning, William Shakespeare and Lord Byron. I’d slam him as an ethnocentric monster, but his musings on poetry are so likable that one can only forgive the offense. He instructs us to recite phrases like “ti-tum, ti-tum, ti-tum, ti-tum” out loud as we read the chapter on “Metre”, and he is so insistent on this point that we find ourselves doing it. He contemplates the controversies over enjambment with enthralling relish.
The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within is an enthusiastic introduction to the pleasures of (classical English) poetry, and I recommend it highly to anybody who likes this sort of thing.