Many, many years ago (2000? 2001?) I went to the Folger Shakespeare to hear Louise Glück read from, what must have been, The Seven Ages, and learned three things:  Glück’s pantsuit probably cost her more than my entire wardrobe me, the balcony has horrible acoustics, and Glück…takes….for….ev….er….to….read. And every third syllable is accompanied by little upspeak lilt: an insecure eighth grader asking another stupid question.

And ever since that night, I have been unable to read a Glück poem without reading it as if she were reading it to me, her breathy pauses infecting my brain. And because I was so thoroughly unimpressed with Glück’s reading that night, I don’t read her poems often. 

The poem that appears in the January 12, 2009 issue of the New Yorker took me nearly three days to read. So…freaking….long. And for what? A weak treatise on the failings of love and marriage and the transformation of a girl into a woman with all the tired transformative symbols (a bird emerging from its shell; reflections of stars on water) compounded by a pithy drunkpunch line from the father that’s suppose to mirror the narrator’s loss of innocence?

Please. This type of poem seriously pisses me off. Nobody should write first person narrative poems on their childhood for 42 years. Maybe then those types of poems will be fresh like a slick baby calf. If you have the urge, write a personal essay with marvelous flourishes of language and insightful metaphor. Tell your story to Ira Glass.  Or just keep it on your online journal where most of these belong.

If you took away the line breaks, how is this not a story suitable for This American Life? What makes this poetry and those mostly wonderful, insightful stories just stories?

I have few problems with poetry that resists its traditional upbringing, that tries to be unpoetical, plain, deconstructive. But it can’t be boring and it can’t follow the same rutted trail with its shiny new tires and think its going someplace new. It’s only new to the writer, not to the reader who has read this same poem over and over for the past fifty years.

But we shouldn’t blame the writer. There are many reasons to write and self-exploration is certainly one of them; blame the editors and publishers for so frequently accepting the used and commonplace.

Further Reading

Mary Karr on Mock Orange

Image and Emotion

Two old poems, improved