Saturday, February 20, 2010

Street Poetry: February 20, 2010

According to a March 2009 article in Newsweek, poetry readership in the US is at a 16-year low – in contrast to a rise in general fiction reading. While I won’t lament poetry as a dying art form, I do think it’s an underappreciated one. Why do so few people curl up with a good poetry anthology on a rainy day?

Poetry is a no-pressure invitation to let your mind wander aimlessly in a richly visual collage of parallel universes. Not to mention the fact that finding a new poet – and maybe becoming their “fan” on Facebook – is almost as fun as finding a new band and proceeding to force said band on your friends.

This weekly blog series is for poetry. I love poems of every shape, size, color, texture, smell, taste, and language-of-origin. What makes a good poem, you might ask? Well, a “good poem” is, by definition, a poem you like. Approached in that way, how can poetry be anything but wonderful?

While realizing that some people just don’t like poetry, and never will – in the same way that some people just don’t like vegetables or hot weather or heavy metal – I maintain that everyone could benefit from some poetry in life. So this column is for poetry. Specifically, I will try to find poems that relate to features in each week’s issue of Street.

This week Street explored procrastination at Princeton. I had some difficulty thinking of poems connected to procrastination. It seems that few poets are inspired to write about wasting time – maybe because, in a sense, poetry is itself an exquisite and justifiable waste of time. I think many poets don’t see a problem with staring into space for hours on end, so anxieties about time-pressure don’t enter their minds or poems too often.

So I pursued a different line of thinking and decided to feature haiku. As almost every veteran of high school English class knows, a haiku is a three-line poem of seventeen syllables (divided 5, 7, 5). This Japanese poetic form – traditionally inspired by an image from the natural world – has taken root in English poetry on both sides of the Atlantic.

While it is hard to argue with PrincetonFML’s superiority when it comes to time-wasting, I would like to suggest haiku as another – and surprisingly similar – option. Leafing through a book or web site of good haiku is an ideal way to pass an hour or two before finally starting your problem set.

The beauty of a great haiku is its instantaneous, experiential quality. The same can be said of a great FML. If worded vividly and concisely, a great FML has the wormhole-like power to transport you to a specific moment in time that’s pin-point sharp. That handful of painstakingly chosen syllables hits a genuine nerve; or it can evoke an actual or imagined – but in either case oh-so-real – memory. This is the sort of intensely present hyperawareness that haiku cultivate in their readers. As American poet Archibald McCleish writes in his (non-haiku) poem, “Ars Poetica:”

A poem should not mean
But be.

Haiku are often the epitome of that truth. Here are a few of my favorite haiku (yes! a rhyme):

Haiku by Matsuo Basho (translated from Japanese by R.H. Blyth)

Yes, spring has come
This morning a nameless hill
Is shrouded in mist.

Ah, summer grasses!
All that remains
Of the warriors’ dreams.

The temple bell dies away
The scent of flowers in the evening
is still tolling the bell.

From Haiku: This Other World by Richard Wright

Crying and crying,
Melodious strings of geese
Passing a graveyard.

I cannot find it,
That very first violet
Seen from my window.

From “Hopewell Haiku” by Paul Muldoon


Bivouac. Billet.
The moon a waning of lard
on a hot skillet.


For I wrote this page
by the spasm…The spasm
A firefly…A cage.

-Allie Shea '12

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I think the reason poetry is dying is cause of what is now considered poetry. I don't want to read it cause it does nothing for me.
However, ironically, I write poetry-what I think is relevant poetry that is different from the dead poetry of today.
Zell Quinn