POETRY IS: Thoughts About the What, Why, and Who of Poetry by James Playsted Wood

POETRY IS: Thoughts About the What, Why, and Who of Poetry

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Don't let the abbreviated title fool you; the first paragraphs expose Wood's pronouncements on poetry as verbose, rambling, sententious garbage: ""There is no legal, social, or practical reason why you should. . . like it"" and poetry has ""little commercial value,"" but its power is evident in the ban against prayer in public schools: religion is expressed in poetry, and ""this frightens legislators."" Further, ""poetry is moonbeams and stardust. It is will-o'-the-wispy and petal delicate. It is also as strong as force, as real as morning, as stern as the voice of God"" and ""a basic reality."" There's more of this before Wood moves on to a random consideration of everything from the emotional content of poetry (exemplified in the patriotic poems of Shakespeare, Browning and Kipling who are presented here with bland impartiality) to the amount of work involved in writing it (Gray's ""Elegy"" took eight years), then ends with a review of 20th-century poetry both ""modern"" (""The Waste Land was formal announcement in learned verse that the world and life are no good""; Pound ""is in many ways an exaggerated T. S. Eliot"") and ""now"" (""What is clear is that there is a great outpouring of contemporary verse""). If Wood has any pattern it consists of quoting various poets on a subject, then dropping the subject for further quotes from and commentary on the last man cited (thus the vanity of bad poets leads us to Emerson, who had some things to say about good poets, and remarks on the effect of poetry on the reader give way to comments on Housman, through his statement about physiological responses). At one point Wood says that ""the poets themselves say all they have to say"" and ""criticism is often gratuitous,"" but this is worse than gratuitous; it's a disservice to poets and poetry and especially to the unfortunate young people whom he will surely alienate from the subject.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1972
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin