Recently, the Arts Council of Greater Lansing put up a billboard celebrating a local poet. I first saw this sign while driving on a highway this weekend, and afterwards I spent 20 minutes trying to understand what I read and then wondering how that one little sentence exactly was poetry. How safe that was for me or the other drivers is debatable (Considering my driving skills it is always debatable when I am on the roads).
The sign read only this: “Blood beats history as presence.”
Imagine seeing that in big white letters with a black background while driving and you will understand my car’s slight swervings. (I get what the poet is saying, but the imagery being used feels very aggressive to me; “blood” and “beatings,” etc.).
I’ve never really understood modern poetry and the sad thing is I have tried. But like the Freemasons, they have their own secret rules and initiations into deciding who can and cannot be in the club. I was never honored with the customary black turtleneck and ink quill as it were; but, honestly, I never sought it out.
I like classic poetry. I can be moved by a Shakespeare sonnet. I am a fan of the Romantic poets (and have quoted Keats often in my work), but the freedom from the classic rules you find in modern or contemporary poetry is what disarms me. Some I really like (Henry Williams’ work jumps to mind.) Yet, poetry, like modern painting, seems to now exist somewhere down in the stomach as a gut/emotional reaction as compared to something that can be easily analyzed on the page. And if you don’t get it, well, you don’t get it.
Yet, while I can accept that I do not understand most poetry today, I have a deeper reaction to modern poetry than simple confusion… Fear. Continue reading