Jan 1, 2012

Lisel Mueller and William Carlos Williams: What's New?

Blogspot was singularly unfriendly yesterday, so here is a revision of that post.

Sometimes, When the Light by Lisel Mueller : The Poetry Foundation

I'm just starting to look at Lisel Mueller's poems with some attention to overall patterns, but in the two I've linked to here (today and November 16), my question is, "Is this enough?"

In November by Lisel Mueller : The Poetry Foundation

Some may respond, "Typical English major type. If it's accessible and has a hint of pleasantness, he says it's shallow."

But with literature, and I assume with other art, we need to ask, where's the beef? Where's the resonance, the impact, the intensity? What's new here? Is it new with a purpose or just new in some flashy, superficial way? Conversely, if it's conventional or traditional, is there something new and distinctive within those bounds? Is the bird in the cage singing or dying? And in any case, why should I care?

William Carlos Williams comes to mind as one who sometimes gets the most and best echo from what may seem a flat plainness of diction.  Here is his famous "The Red Wheelbarrow":

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

Can a poet write what seems to be prose broken whimsically into lines and still achieve emotional or intellectual impact? Does some poet do it better than Mueller or Williams?

Based on only a poem or two apiece, the question, I agree, is absurd, and the whole notion of making poetry competitive is open to challenge. But it's what we do with all art, whether or not we like to admit it and whether or not the system is fair.

Besides, this is just a blog, not world peace, not even a New York Times headline, so I'm asking the questions anyway. Maybe it will cause someone to look at more work by each poet, and others, in which case, just take me out back and shoot me.

Oh, yeah, Happy New Year.

Sometimes, When the Light by Lisel Mueller : The Poetry Foundation


Gothpunkuncle said...

I don't think there's any doubt that the Mueller poem stands up, B. It's almost Wordsworthian as it takes us back to one of those quirky childhood half-epiphanies that most of us can relate to. Every word seems to be in place. The question becomes, "do I want to read a whole book of these?" Not sure. It certainly works as a pallet cleanser between Pound's Cantos and Eliot's Dry Salvages. I'd be more interested to read what your readers think of WCW's Spring and All in its entirety than this infamous fragment.

Unknown said...

Seems to me that even simple things have complex sounds. Mueller seems to be missing music.

Stickup Artist said...

Some poetry rocks me to my core, some jolts me out of my chair, some helps me to transcend, and some opens up new worlds. Mueller's work did none of this. But sometimes, it really is fine to keep company in the comfort of the familiar.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

It's enough for me.

The words are simple, plain and a little nostalgic

"the light strikes at odd angles"

It's doesn't knock your socks off. But it does present that little bit of familiarity that an artist is capable of making you recall.

Ken Mac said...

a magic doorway

Banjo52 said...

I like these comments. Seems to me they begin to capture a range of reasonable responses to the Mueller poem and my questions about it.

Keep 'em coming.

Hannah Stephenson said...

I liked the first Mueller poem...there is more weirdness in it than the second one. I also wasn't sure where the poem was going...it was unpredictable, which is always good. That idea of secrecy under the trees...really nice.

"In November" doesn't resonate as much with me. It feels vague...I wish I knew more about who was speaking here. The first four lines, I kind of like. But then it feels more expected ("as I lay me down to sleep, morning/coffee/news").

Now...look at THIS poems of hers, which is really lovely: http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/bedtime-story/

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