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  • Summary Of The Spoken Responses By The Poets To Their Critics
  • John Hollander

Mark Strand responded to Charles Berger’s comments by mak-ing appreciative remarks about the kind of attention his work had received, adding that he did occasionally in writing perceive “glimmers, in the kind of attention I pay, to what Charles Berger has spoken of.” With regard to certain aspects of prior intention, he said that “vague formal imperatives got fulfilled in the writing” and that knowing at the time “the rightness of what I’ve said,” I was nonetheless able to “know the meaning of what I’d said only weeks afterward.” He also acknowledged the kinds of allusiveness which Berger had adduced in his writing, speaking of how and when in the course of writing the resources of his particular sort of echo and allusion seemed to make themselves available.

He then turned to the specific question of one of the sequences of poems that Berger had discussed, the “Great Dog Poem No. 2.” He averred that in choosing a dog as speaker he had “not just meant to be funny” [he avowed later on in his remarks that his poems frequently began with “dark humor”] but had also sought for a mode of introspection more original than the fashionably solemn ones of so much contemporary poetry: “I could look within and bark.” With respect to the final line, he observed “I like to finish with a flourish, to pretend I’m Laforgue or Rimbaud,” manifesting “a desire to be a symbolist poet.” With respect to that concluding verse, “I feel like the end of a gorgeous line,” he added that if a dog said that—particularly “a [End Page 189] platinum retriever”—it could not be self-pitying. He spoke in general of the relation of high and low in the poem (a dog named “Rex,” and so forth) and of the relation of this sequence to a much earlier poem of his called “Eating Poetry” in which the speaker is likewise a dog.

With regard to formal design, he concluded by saying that in general he tended to start poems “with rough drafts in blank verse” which he then “roughened up” in various ways, preferring as he said “cadences” rather than “measure” in the framing of lines. But he added that in the De Chirico poems he had read, he felt that if one wrote a villanelle, one should keep strictly to the form, without changing words in the refrain lines, and keeping to the iambic meter, saying that “I don’t think you should cheat” under those circumstances.

Strand concluded by thanking Berger for the precise nature of his critical attentiveness.

John Hollander started out by acknowledging with pleasure that Eleanor Cook’s analysis of his “Owl” had certainly helped him to understand it better; he observed that he felt he had only started to write what he called “real poetry” in his third book, when he had first written a poem he could not understand at the time, and only came to understand years later. He remarked that “The relation of poet and critic as framed by this panel is this: good criticism is a poem’s best friend. We all depend on our friends to point out to us things about ourselves we may not know or acknowledge; although their cousins and other familial relations are other poems, our poems’ best friends are pieces of critical writing.”

He was particularly grateful to Cook for pointing out things he hadn’t himself seen—such as the question of the terminal words in the first stanza—but which as a result of the critical insight he had to acknowledge. And this brought up the crucial question of intentionality at the practical rather than theoretical level: in the case of such observations by critics and acknowledgments by poets, it would seem that the writing of a poem could have an intention of which the writer would be unaware. Hollander adduced the analogy of dreaming to poetic composition, paralleling the question “Did you mean to write that?” with (to anyone reporting a dream) “Did you mean to dream that?”

He then observed about the...

Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 189-192
Launched on MUSE
1996-04-01
Open Access
No
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