Poetry Bulletin: Charles Simic, Stephen Fry

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.

18 Responses

  1. God DamnDoesn’t it also seem
    God Damn

    Doesn’t it also seem like just yesterday that I was the Poet Laureate of Ebay? Something’s wrong with the system, man and I don’t think we should let them get away with it.

    Although the idea of Charles Simic in a box is a great marketing plan.

  2. People’s LaureateYou’d know
    People’s Laureate

    You’d know more about this than I would, but it seems like there’s been no “poetry movement” since Ginsberg, et al, were ranting and raving in the Village forty-five years ago.

    What they had, what we don’t have, is unity. Well that and a publisher – Ferlinghetti. Are well-known poets reading in New York or anyplace else? I mean, the KGB Bar hosts poetry and prose readings, but unless you read their zine, or maybe the Village Voice, you’d never hear about it.

    Perhaps Litkicks and LitBlog Co-op should link up with KGB and anybody/everybody else who’s actively promoting contemporary poets. Maybe host an annual “people’s poet laureate.”

    PS – The Guild of Outsider Writers is sponsoring a Jack Micheline Memorial poetry book contest that’s open to everyone.

  3. Turning blue…I wouldn’t
    Turning blue…

    I wouldn’t hold your breath on any daring choices from the LOC. Their choices are pretty staid.

    That said, Hall didn’t do much because he became pretty ill soon after his appointment. He did make it down to DC for his own reading and did the transatlantic readings with Andrew Motion but that was it.

    We’ll see about Simic. He’s got some good ideas in his poetry.
    It’s a crapshoot though you know? I mean Hall is certainly more established but he’s lived longer and been involved longer. Simic’s younger. I think its great to have someone with more of an international aspect.
    I’ll have more of a sense when they announce who he’s chosen to read at the LOC.

  4. What exactly…is the purpose
    What exactly…

    is the purpose for having a Poet Laureate? What are they supposed to do or represent?

  5. I didn’t realize that Donald
    I didn’t realize that Donald Hall had become sick. That helps explain, thanks …

  6. How can she be Poet Laureate
    How can she be Poet Laureate of YouTube when she’s Poet Laureate of EBay? Let’s not let things get out of hand here …

  7. I believe they are officially
    I believe they are officially “consultants” to the Library of Congress. Unofficially and informally, they are expected to engage in some sorts of public promotions or spectacles to help spread the joys of poetry to the American people, or something like that.

  8. There is poetry going down in
    There is poetry going down in several places. The Bowery Poetry Club, Russell Simmons Def Poetry on HBO, the Fuel Coffeehouse here in Jacksonville…but I think I know what you mean. There are more splinter groups, less of a cohesive “scene” perhaps. But I don’t know if there has ever been a truly cohesive scene. it’s all what the media pushes. You know, for a while it’s “The Lake Poets” or the “Romanticists” and then The “Black Mountain Poets” and the “Beats” but a lot of these movements overlap and are intertwined to the point where you just have to jump in a BE a part of it. It’s inside of you.

  9. Oh, I thought by her tone
    Oh, I thought by her tone that FC was being ousted from her estemmed Ebay Laureate position, that Perhaps her rating had gone down. “Poetry on demand was slow in arriving, one & a half stars,” or something.


  10. I thinkThe poet laureate
    I think

    The poet laureate should be required to do one post to LitKicks to explain what he is going to do, and post one poem to Action Poetry.

  11. Indeed.Make them think twice.

    Make them think twice. Checks & balances. Tight ship.

  12. Poet LaureateI find Simic is
    Poet Laureate

    I find Simic is all right but agree he is rather limited in a provincial way. I have a bias for Donald Hall, in part because he came to teach at an AP Literature seminar I attened in ’99 and it was such a treat to listen to him read and discuss poetry and The Red Sox (another mutual passion we share).

    I would offer Sharon Olds as someone “more wild” and worthy than Simic though I’d be ok with Snyder or Bly as well. Olds is a powerful writer with a gift for detail and variety of subject, too.

  13. Back when Firecracker was
    Back when Firecracker was Poet Laureate of Ebay

    and pigeons learned to warble instead of just coo,

    I hung my joeboxers on the line to dry

    Whistling in harmony in a “just right” world

    Because firecracker was poet laureate of ebay

    (yeah… I know… it’s bad… but I couldn’t help myself, and you made me smile)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

What We're Up To ...

Litkicks will turn 30 years old in the summer of 2024! We can’t believe it ourselves. We don’t run as many blog posts about books and writers as we used to, but founder Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher is busy running two podcasts. Please check out our latest work!