Blog, January 8 — Rhina P. Espaillat

Notes on Contributors

 Commentary on Hummer Essay

Hummer’s essay on Vachel Lindsay is very interesting.  These poems of his are a revelation of sorts, so different in tone–but not in manner–from the ones that everybody of my generation knows. He feels like a precursor of rap, because of his snappy meters and repetitions and swift flow; there’s something almost “smart-alecky” about his lines, oddly out of synch with the moral earnestness and naive good intentions that make him feel dated. Even the way he seems to turn against jazz and the saxophone in these poems, in favor of the romanticized Irish harp, suggests a kind of narrowness, an inability to love opposites, to hold two things in focus at the same time. But isn’t that particular faculty for creative ambivalence exactly what poetry is good at?

 

Yes, Lindsay has slipped out of fashion, like so many poets who once attracted a massive readership: Celia Thaxter comes to mind, who was so popular in her day that she drew royalty and nobility from abroad, as well as poetry lovers from across the U. S., to visit her on the Isles of Shoals. Meanwhile, her contemporary, Emily Dickinson, published almost nothing during her lifetime and died virtually unknown outside of Amherst. It’s tantalizing to contemplate the future of any literary reputation. Or any reputation in any of the arts, for that matter: J. S. Bach almost disappeared for a long time.

 

As for “spoken poetry,” I’m glad to see it back and respected now, because I think of poetry principally as sound, like song, and think it’s only half alive on the page. Print keeps it around, the way musical notation preserves music, but only the human voice really “creates it” in the living air between poet and hearer/reader. But it has the same need for craftsmanship and thought as poetry of any kind, composed in any way for any audience.

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  1. […] Hummer’s essay on Vachel Lindsay is very interesting.  These poems of his are a revelation of sorts, so different in tone–but not in manner–from the ones that everybody of my generation knows. He feels like a precursor of rap, because of his snappy meters and repetitions and swift flow; there’s something almost “smart-alecky” about his lines, oddly out of synch with the moral earnestness and naive good intentions that make him feel dated. Even the way he seems to turn against jazz and the saxophone in these poems, in favor of the romanticized Irish harp, suggests a kind of narrowness, an inability to love opposites, to hold two things in focus at the same time. But isn’t that particular faculty for creative ambivalence exactly what poetry is good at? More… […]

  2. […] Hummer’s essay on Vachel Lindsay is very interesting.  These poems of his are a revelation of sorts, so different in tone–but not in manner–from the ones that everybody of my generation knows. He feels like a precursor of rap, because of his snappy meters and repetitions and swift flow; there’s something almost “smart-alecky” about his lines, oddly out of synch with the moral earnestness and naive good intentions that make him feel dated. Even the way he seems to turn against jazz and the saxophone in these poems, in favor of the romanticized Irish harp, suggests a kind of narrowness, an inability to love opposites, to hold two things in focus at the same time. But isn’t that particular faculty for creative ambivalence exactly what poetry is good at? More… […]