Earl Gray

Earl Gray
"You can argue with me but, in the end, you'll have to face that fact that you're arguing with a squirrel." - Earl Gray

Monday, June 3, 2013

Atheist Priests

     Imagine an anti-government political party hoping to form a government.  To any objective, logical thinker this makes zero sense.  It's an oxymoron dreaming of a contradiction.  Others may identify them as "anarchists", "panstentialists", "conservatives", "Tea Partiers", "Republicans", et cetera.  Let us call them "atheist priests":  people eager to participate in something they oppose and/or avoid understanding. 

     Two of today's most successful poetry editors have told me that they have never studied the elements of verse.  Others have made it clear through aesthetic statements and editorial decisions that they have no interest in technique.

     Obvious question:  Why dedicate your time to something that doesn't interest you?  What duffer, patzer or palooka doesn't take lessons to improve their game?

     Obvious comeback:   What bother learning the craft if we're able to become editors, [content] critics or teachers without this knowledge?

     Perhaps those of us who study prosody have done a terrible job promoting the science.  One would think that, among poetry fans, technique would be as easy to sell as water in a crowded desert.  After all, other things being equal, these tricks can and do mean the difference between losing and winning tiebreaks in contests--writing or slam--or publishing decisions.  For example, members of the tiny group of technique freaks we call "onliners" have won all ten of the last Nemerovs.  They have produced both of the best poets and all six of the great poems in this, the 21st century.

     Ironically, one of my editor friends recently complained about his publication reaching a number of shortlists but winning no actual awards.  Apparently, he doesn't think that his ignorance of prosody is evident to readers, critics and, perhaps most importantly, judges.  What is true for individuals in a contest or submissions pile is equally true for books and magazines eligible for awards.  Assuming fair and competent judging, quality outs, even when differences are miniscule.

     Consider the view many have of critics, editors and technicians as dour negativist vampires sucking the life out of the poetry world.  The impression is that these people cannot be thrilled by poetry.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

     Take a gander at Lola Flores' performance of "La Cogida y la Muerte" from Federico García Lorca's "Llanto por Ignacio Sánchez Mejías":

     Non-Hispanics can appreciate the drama but, for obvious reasons, cannot hope to enjoy this as much as a native Spanish speaker.  For agnostic clerics, all poetry, including English verse, is in a language they don't understand:  poetry.  Sure, they may catch the drift of it but, by definition, the sonic syntax is beyond them.  They are like tone deaf attendees at a Loreena McKennitt concert.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #13
     No one can appreciate great poetry as much as the one who understands its components, this being yet another reason to study them.  Foreign languages are wonderful--I speak three--but after a while abroad we yearn to hear our mother tongue.  To anyone versed in the elements of English verse, a great poem well performed is like hearing the Three Tenors in the background as Derek Edwards tickles your funnybone in your native dialect (which you haven't heard in decades) while you eat ice cream and reach orgasm.  On heroin.

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