Aug 19, 2009



Backward now to my August 11 post and onward, finally, to GOTHPUNKUNCLE (GPK) with apologies for my tardiness and appreciation for his patience. This got long (what a surprise), so I’ll spread it over two days. Stay tuned.

First, here’s a quick and, I hope, unnecessary clarification: when I said "singer," I meant the composer at least as much as the voice of the singer. More literally, I suppose the voice is the bridge between the singer and the song, as it was written. The composer and singer are the makers, the song is the product, the poem. My analogy is apparently more complicated--and more flawed?--than I thought.

Now GPK, here are some of your comments and my responses. Since you were being frisky, I hope I don't sound overly serious here, but your points are interesting, important, and plausible, so I’d rather over-respond than skimp.

GPK: Wouldn't criteria for excellence just be a matter of carefully reading the Norton anthologies with an eye toward commonalities in its selected offerings?

Banjo52: Maybe so, and maybe the Norton is both stuffy and over-esteemed. (On the other hand, my 1973 Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry has 19 pages of D.H. Lawrence compared to 9 pages of Wallace Stevens. If that indicates anything, maybe we've overestimated its stuffiness?)

At any rate, to begin discovering great writing, we have to start somewhere. In the last few decades, why not the Norton, along with some other widely used anthologies? It will be decades before we know which living writers belong in the canon (need I mention Emily Dickinson and her anonymity?), but is that a reason to avoid starting the process?

GPK: I could study . . . Rolling Stone magazine's top recordings of all times . . . and The Billboard charts . . . . I'm afraid that the song has extrinsic value as well as intrinsic value. The New Vaudevillians won a Grammy in the late sixties for "Winchester Cathedral." I'm not sure if anybody even sought Leonard Cohen's opinion on this.

Banjo52: I’m not sure I get your point, but it sounds as if folks cared more about the song (or a rendition of it) than they did the composer? Is that a bad thing? Or it was a bad song and sold well?

How does Leonard Cohen fit in? For me, the answer would be that he wrote infinitely better than he sings, so thanks to The Powers for letting us experience his work--his product--in a variety of voices, some of them better than others.

GPK: Value is dynamic rather than static. Whose stock is worth more now? Does T.S. Eliot mean as much to readers as he did 40 years ago?

Banjo52: “Value”? I hope the marketplace is not the primary determinant of value. If so, poetry is virtually worthless, no matter whose work it is.

Interrupting our broadcast--
This just in: the remarkable video of the guy sliding down
a ramp, then flying up and over into an outdoor pool? I’ve just heard from the friend who sent it that he's learned it was doctored—photo-shopped. Is this one more Santa Claus deflation? And one more way to dispute The New Criticism? Or do we say, “That video is entertaining in its own right; how it got made is irrelevant?" In any case, it cued up a ramble from Banjo52.

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