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Sudden high recommendation for Stevens' "An Ordinary Evening in New Haven"; it might just be my mood but this strikes me as his ultimate poem. My reservations about him have one by one proved unjustified, he's the poet of our birth century. Neruda's best work is nearer perfection but less important. Lorca, Rilke, Frost (even in "Directive" I've decided) etc. also only compete by going for a few accessible effects at a time. They're only better when we're worse. Which is often enough but first place is first place.

The poem's twenty pages long and requires a special kind of rereading: read each section through, alternately glacier slow and tapwater fast, until you get it. Stop if exhausted and resume another day; your mind will retain what it mastered last time. If you just can't figure out what he's talking about read a few of his essays or try "Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction"; this isn't the "Sunday Morning" Stevens, he worked out a complex and beautiful way of taking things throughout the 30s and 40s. I assure you every sentence makes sense.

Date: 2004-01-13 08:27 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] andalus.livejournal.com
whats it take to be great

Date: 2004-01-14 01:45 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] proximoception.livejournal.com
My guess? Self-love and self-dissatisfaction positioned so as to somehow egg each other infinitely on.

It also helps to live in 4th Century BCE Athens, 1st Century BCE Rome, Renaissance Italy or England, 17th Century France, 19th Century America or Europe, and (some would add) early 20th Century Anywhere... i.e. when and where things are starting up or convulsively restarting. Latecomers apparently have it too easy or have too many eyes on their predecessors and too few on what their predecessors had eyes on.

I keep thinking of other things to add but none seem as important as these.

Date: 2004-01-14 01:59 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] proximoception.livejournal.com
Or were you asking of what does greatness consist, for a poem?

Date: 2004-01-14 08:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] andalus.livejournal.com
i was thinking the former but now i'm curious about the latter

Date: 2004-04-07 08:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] proximoception.livejournal.com
I've forgotten my own opinions but will take some preliminary stabs anyway, hoping they'll flood back in at some point as I go.

Ineloquently: Great art successfully intimates/indicates/reminds of/restores/enhances/creates the best world inside the worst. The best world in question can vary. People argue about whether the best best is the truest or the falsest.

I'm trying to think of a great poem that doesn't fit this, after some term-loosening.

Spenser's "Epithalamion" and Frost's "Out, Out..." resist it somewhat. Can we say that purely happy poems imply a worst world and purely grim ones a best?

The buzz-saw snarled and rattled in the yard
And made dust and dropped stove-length sticks of wood,
Sweet-scented stuff when the breeze drew across it.
And from there those that lifted eyes could count
Five mountain ranges one behind the other
Under the sunset far into Vermont.
And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and rattled,
As it ran light, or had to bear a load.
And nothing happened: day was all but done.
Call it a day, I wish they might have said
To please the boy by giving him the half hour
That a boy counts so much when saved from work.
His sister stood beside them in her apron
To tell them "Supper." At the word, the saw,
As if to prove saws knew what supper meant,
Leaped out at the boy's hand, or seemed to leap--
He must have given the hand. However it was,
Neither refused the meeting. But the hand!
The boy's first outcry was a rueful laugh,
As he swung toward them holding up the hand
Half in appeal, but half as if to keep
The life from spilling. Then the boy saw all--
Since he was old enough to know, big boy
Doing a man's work, though a child at heart--
He saw all spoiled. "Don't let him cut my hand off--
The doctor, when he comes. Don't let him, sister!"
So. But the hand was gone already.
The doctor put him in the dark of ether.
He lay and puffed his lips out with his breath.
And then--the watcher at his pulse took fright.
No one believed. They listened at his heart.
Little--less--nothing!--and that ended it.
No more to build on there. And they, since they
Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.

That one poem is best for us at one time and others at others indicates the best world changes constantly. Hence Stevens' decision that the best art should also be different each time experienced.

Maybe this formulation works better: the greatest art successfully restores us to a sense of what's most valuable.

But even that's inadequate: there are times when the art itself *is* what's most valuable. Hence, um, the term poetic value.

Ah, but then there's the possibility that value is valuable because it restores value elsewhere. "Desire for desire," not at all a paradox if we decide there's a special value to desire in itself that can be separated from the dissatisfaction of the desire's having not yet been met. Maybe if you want enough things you can't be dissatisfied because anything that happens will have some satisfaction for you. Paradise as wanting everything. This is interesting since it means we have to part company with the analogy of sexual consummation, which offers gratifications despite extinguishing desire. But if there's a happy state of rest as well as one of excitation which is to be preferred? Perhaps the brain solves this problem for us by not letting the two states remember one another. But if there are two states, which does poetry work toward? Are there two poetries?

Perhaps the two states can be reconciled; or with the Stevens comment in mind we can theorize that the lesson of how to oscillate between them most effectively may be the gift of great poetry. Which gift might itself be characterized as poetry, in Stevens' wide sense of poetry as a freed, enjoying mental state... or even the narrow sense. Poems might be memories teaching how to remember.

Speaking of which I suddenly remember my actual opinions. Time for some private reverie.

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