That it is National Poetry Month has not escaped me, but I will not bother to mention it as 1) I am not a poet and 2) poets get far too much attention as it is and 3) there are far too many bad poets who would only find this encouragement to go on. They make me think of the incredibly overwrought poet O’Bannion from Auntie Mame. Bad poetry can be found around most any corner, even in an economic downturn. It multiplies like cockroaches. Cockroaches, however, don’t get open mic nights.
Oh, sure — there are good poets, and I’ve quoted from many of them. In fact I’ve had Philip Larkin on my mind today [er, yesterday, as I wrote this ahead of time, shhhh]. I blame Lucky Him, which I’ve gone back to reading since I had to return The Talented Miss Highsmith to the library yesterday, lamentably unfinished. Its 700+ pages daunted, especially as I went gallivanting off on a trip and decided not to lug the doorstop-sized hardcover along with me, accustomed as I am to traveling light. Larkin, who often served as an audience and confidante for his friend Kingsley Amis, seemed to feel the weight of the disparity between their experiences, which he wrote about in “Letter to a Friend about Girls” with some tartness and not a little envy.
The magic of good poetry is that it is precise. Every word needed, no word extraneous. No wonder I prefer prose — there’s wiggle room there. While every word should have its job and no other in prose, too, it seems that there are on occasion a few layabouts who serve no earthly purpose in a sentence, but hang tightly around the ones that are doing the work, so the careless supervisor assumes they’re all busy and passes on by. When I unpack the taut efficiency of Donne’s “Flea” I know I have a lot of calisthenics ahead of me before I could run in that kind of race.