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Likes: RedDagger To reply, click a comment. I-Like-Rhymes - Many thanks for your excerpt. Perhaps you may wish to add a precis of your thesis to our essay pages. Click on the essay link on our home page. Admittedly, the poem is easy to misinterpret. In fact, the poem violates the very thing it is said to espouse! Nobody could argue that this poem does not have a message.

The final lines read: A poem should be equal to: Not true.

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For all the history of grief An empty doorway and a maple leaf. For love The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea— A poem should not mean But be. To demonstrate, MacLeish gives two examples of what he means. In other words, a poem enacts meaning. Look, my art is sooo Z.

Namely, the academic poets imposed a new set of rules on Poetry The more I look at this little trick, the more amazed I am that they could get away with it. We can enjoy translations just as much or more sometimes as we enjoy poems in our own language. Those poems, in their original form, may have followed many rules that we can no longer experience. We are experiencing everything else--the story, the insight, turns of phrase, observations, and vision.

Let me make this point from the other direction. So where are the rules? But I tell you, this bit of magic could be translated into every language on the planet, and readers everywhere would fall silent before it. The picture is so vivid, so memorable.

Ars Poetica by Archibald Macleish

This for me is poetry--by virtue of its leap into unexpected truth. What captivates are vistas new and lucky, feelings sharp and unanticipated. Still want rules? Well, let me suggest you find your own set. Make sure these rules are ways to liberate, not inhibit, the best in you. The great sin of the McPoets, as academics have been called, is that they all got on the same boat, and crafted a similar product.

The people making the rules for McPoetry were often the same people, as members of the counterculture, who told us: drop out, go crazy, get stoned, steal this book, in short, break all the rules!


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Remember the anarchy of it all. And yet, and yet. Excited about something I had written, I told my fiend a lady intellectual, let us say with some excitement. We decided all that. In meetings at the Cedar Tavern They decided?! Meanwhile, there I was, the young poet, chatting familiarly with the dead Ezra Pound! Dramatic and arresting, right? His poem, for many decades, was presented to possibly a million students I was one of them as holy writ; some still think it is.

Mute and dumb? A poem? If a poet feels this rule or any rule as a personal truth, fine. But for MacLeish to lay these strictures down as some final verdict was nonsense.

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But a generation of professors pretended that MacLeish had settled forever what poetry must be. They wanted to lock in how poetry should feel. Not surprisingly, all those poems ended up feeling much the same. What got marginalized was highly original poetry, even though the great poems have usually had an offbeat, surprising, not-experienced-before quality. Perhaps, to some degree, this was not a group of people with a lot of high spirits.

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But I tend to focus on the careerist or guild aspects. If everyone agrees that a poem is a highly confected, artificial sort of thing that few people can do Like wearing white to tennis, some rules have the effect of keeping out the riffraff. In practice, these rules also functioned as a self-imposed straightjacket or gag order. Think about rich Romans agreeing that good dinner plates, proper plates, were made from lead.

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Later, much later, scientists figured out why so many Romans went insane. Lead poisoning. Simultaneously, we are vaguely bored and annoyed--all that de-de-dum, de-de-dum, lake, sake, break. These giants are not real popular today. The very skill that made them so highly esteemed--they could nail a perfect 10 on these tightly defined genres--now strikes us as too predictable, too tight. These great talents, to some degree, imprisoned themselves within their rules, and their gift for following those rules. We want more surprise before our eyes. I believe this is the rule that trumps all other so-called rules, even for those of you who dote on rules.

Be wild within the structure you inhabit. Stay steps ahead of the reader. Longfellow was a good writer, telling a great story in a magical way, and he pulled this off. However, when I looked at it closely and counted syllables, I realized Longfellow mixed up his lines and endlessly created variations on his metrical scheme. A lesser talent, following the same rules more tightly, might make us bonkers by the 20th line. Longfellow managed to achieve a kind of beautiful roughness that is a metaphor for this country.

They taught this when I was in the fifth grade. I think not. You have to look at without preconception to see how rough, weird and attacking it is. You have to mimic the start of his Ars Poetica but create a poem exactly opposite of what he wanted you to do--something raw and rambunctious, something to make McPoets squirm. If you can write a striking Archibald, send it in with your name and city. Yes, at the end of the day, I want my poetry to be clearly poetry, not prose.


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    Ars Poetica by Archibald MacLeish

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