Between Work and Wit

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.


  1. Todd Mason says:

    Ah, but without glutinous poetry, whither Owl-Stuffing Time?I think your typo might've been Larkin's…LUCKY HIM, indeed.

  2. Todd Mason says:

    I assumed too much and too rashly…that would be an inevitable biography title, at least for the first half of Amis's life, I gather…

  3. K. A. Laity says:

    Owl Stretching!Yeah, I'm in the latter part of Lucky Him and it's a bit grim, but he's still lucky that his first wife let him live with her and her husband and took care of him. We should all be so lucky.

  4. In the process of rotating the bios of Cheever, Carver and Highsmith. At 700 pages +-all too long. But also all good.

  5. K. A. Laity says:

    Thanks for sharing that, Patti. I was really enjoying the Highsmith, although its loopy format was a bit repetitive at times, I like the surreal way she linked together things, so I ended up skipping around once it was clear that I couldn't renew it.Other writer bios people have enjoyed? Or docos! I saw a good Larkin one last summer and Fathers and Sons on the Waughs. PBS showed a fairly enjoyable one on LM Alcott recently which I made sure to record. Another way to avoid writing — must be about time to teach my Writers in Motion class.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Donne's Flea?AdamHad 'em?-rand where's Ogden?

  7. K. A. Laity says:

    [G]nashing his teeth?

  8. Todd Mason says:

    Yes, but I was difference-splitting between "Owl-Stretching Time" (and "Whither Candada?") and THE STUFFED OWL and all the assemblies of bad verse since. There's method in my mumble.Well, as I recommend to all, HIGHSMITH: A ROMANCE OF THE FIFTIES (and Meaker's YA memoir ME ME ME ME ME: NOT A NOVEL, which touches on her friendship with Richard Matheson and work on staff at Gold Medal); I've certainly been following Sandra Tsing-Loh's serial memoirs, and then the last arguably unusual one before that was the reconsitituted Judith Merril memoir.

  9. K. A. Laity says:

    I got HIGHSMITH on your rec and though I've only had time to read the first chapter, it's a whizzer. I'll probably rip through it when I'm done with the Amis.

  10. Julie Lomoe says:

    I highly recommend writing poeetry and reading it at open mics as a welcome diversion from more carefully considered prose. When it comes to poetry, most people don't know how to differentiate between bad and good – I certainly don't!

  11. K. A. Laity says:

    Unfortunately, I do and it's kind of painful to listen to bad poetry. Unlike bad drama, which I can find nevertheless entertaining, bad poetry just reminds me I ought to be writing instead.

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