Friday, 28 August 2015

Trust in the Daemon

Harriet blog invited writers to identify female poets "of intense, even transformative value." Stephen Burt picked Louise Bogan:
It seems almost incontrovertibly true that the practice of poetry requires a kind of irrational commitment, a belief that whatever you find in the language, and whatever you find in yourself, matter in ways that other people cannot or do not or do not yet understand—you can call it, if you like, a trust in the daemon, or a faith in the language, or a devotion to something no one can quite name. And it seems true as well that you can’t make good poetry—except by accident—unless you think hard and patiently, sometimes with all the learning you can find, about what you’re writing, about what you’re rewriting, and about what other people wrote before you were born. If you are looking for a poet, a critic, a writer whose lifework contains both truths—who found the hot and the cold, the knowable and the unknowable, and who respected both—you could do a lot worse than to read all the poems and at least some of the prose brought into the world by Louise Bogan, who came from a hard early life amid mill towns in Maine to become the author of several handfuls of perfect, and frightening, epigrammatic and lyric poems; she was also, for decades, the in-house poetry critic at the New Yorker, explaining as best she could the poetry that she felt was best (and was modern) to readers for whom it was all (still) new.

Nobody in the history of American poetry has come closer to the effects created by W. B. Yeats: sometimes these effects made her imitative, but sometimes they made her terrifically memorable. Some of her poems (including a self-lacerating one called “Women”) addressed gender directly; many of them addressed what she took to be a woman’s (a cisgender straight woman’s, in today’s terms) attitudes towards romantic and erotic love. Bogan brought her critical gifts to her poetry, but she knew that without passion and weirdness—without the capacity to surprise yourself—those gifts were not enough: if you want to shock your students, or your teachers, or yourself, try her four-line advice to aspiring writers, “Several Voices Out of a Cloud.”

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