Robert Pinsky: Freedom in Poetry

Robert Pinsky at the website of the Poetry Foundation:

Pinksy_smallThere are no rules, but uniformity in art can make it feel as though there are rules: the more unconscious or unperceived (as with widely accepted fashions), the more confining.

A reigning style can feel tyrannical: the assumptions behind it so well-established that there seem to be no alternatives. But there are always alternatives. How might a resourceful, ambitious artist get past or around a perceived tyranny? European painters early in the twentieth century, challenging the academic norm, found something useful in Japanese cigarette papers and African masks.

The past can offer a useful way of rebelling against the orthodoxies of the present. The early modernist poets revived interest in John Donne and Andrew Marvell, not because they wanted to correct the academic reading lists—that was a side effect—but because they were impatient with late-late Romantic, post-Victorian softness. They craved models of hard-edged intelligence and lightning wit.

In the 1970s, a young poet I knew described the manner most prevalent in the magazines and writing workshops of those days as “just grooving on images.” I remember that poet—now a considerable and innovative figure—introducing me toJames Shirley’s “The Glories of Our Blood and State,” praising the poem for the force of its statement and idiom, the cogency of its propositions, and its cadences.

More here.