Saturday, November 27, 2010

Poetry Prompt #33 – A Poem about Poetry

Thanksgiving weekend, Chanukah (beginning on December 2), and Christmas preparations in full swing will make this a busy week for many of us.  I thought that instead of a typical prompt I'd share one of Marianne Moore's most famous poems  – something to think about – a poem about poetry. Of course, if you do have time to write this week, how about writing your own poem about poetry?

By Marianne Moore

I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond
      all this fiddle.
   Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one
      discovers in
   it after all, a place for the genuine.
      Hands that can grasp, eyes
      that can dilate, hair that can rise
         if it must, these things are important not because a

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because
      they are
   useful. When they become so derivative as to become
   the same thing may be said for all of us, that we
      do not admire what
      we cannot understand: the bat
         holding on upside down or in quest of something to 

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless
      wolf under
   a tree, the immovable critic twitching his skin like a horse
      that feels a flea, the base-
   ball fan, the statistician--
      nor is it valid
         to discriminate against "business documents and

school-books"; all these phenomena are important. One must make
      a distinction
   however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the
      result is not poetry,
   nor till the poets among us can be
     "literalists of
      the imagination"--above
         insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, "imaginary gardens with real toads in them,"
      shall we have
   it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand,
   the raw material of poetry in
      all its rawness and
      that which is on the other hand
         genuine, you are interested in poetry.

From Others for 1919: An Anthology of the New Verse, edited by Alfred Kreymborg.


  1. Amazing poem! Thanks!


  2. Makes you think, right?

  3. Itinerant Poet

    He arrived early and signed the reading list.
    Then sat comfortably in uncomfortable plastic chairs.
    Familiar with the routine,
    he would listen to the featured poet –
    forming all the time, thoughts about his own writing.

    He wrote from heartache or tragedy,
    of some uncertain event or desire,
    his inner hopes,
    those darkest fears -
    feelings for which paper and pen were conceived.
    He could hide himself in the words,
    like a child in a wood’s thicket.
    Though they all knew from his dew drop tears,
    the quiver in his voice,
    the emotional life center from which conceived.

    The words he kept in plastic sleeves purchased at Staples
    so the edges of his life’s travails would not fray.
    Others thought he ought once in awhile
    change these glassine windows to his soul,
    when the view was smudged from the caresses of finger tips.

    Once he may have thought more -
    but after a lingering term,
    he realized he wrote, but for himself.
    People rarely asked him to come back – specifically.
    Occasionally a novice high schooler
    would come up to him afterwards
    swept up in the emotion - not so much the words.
    His style mimicked their high school writing
    the unrequited love of the teenager
    for the desk next door in English class.

    Most gave up after two or three times,
    or two or three months at the most –
    some wondered why they even thought to come and read –
    For each though, their precious symphony of words
    composed for heartstrings
    accomplished its purpose -
    emotions now settled and merged into life’s existence.

    But he –
    he, never quit --

    When he died his tombstone should have read:

    “Here lies an Itinerant Poet.
    He persevered.
    His words comforted him.
    He caressed them
    as he slept the one last time.”

    His daughter took the plastic sleeves,
    placed them by the headstone,
    put a small stone upon them,
    covered them with leaves.

    He as a bystander, would have written about her feelings.
    Her touching sentimental acknowledgment
    of these deep emotional companions - that spoke of him.

    He would have wished though, they had at least made copies.
    If he knew, he would have preferred they saved them -
    even if it was in a dusty attic where no one
    would find them except the moving company.
    He would have chosen that a cleaning man
    be the one to throw them away.

    Now they belonged to the wind and the elements
    -- as did he.

    Ray Brown

  4. Thanks so much for posting your poem, Ray! I think we've all seen that poet at readings. The idea of him wishing a cleaning man had been the one to throw the poems away stays with the reader. Thanks again.