Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Me and the minor

At the Poetry Foundation, I reflect on the pleasures of "minor" literature. The spark was Garrett Caples's pamphlet from Wave Books, "Quintessence of the Minor: Symbolist Poetry in English"—a must read! (I'm serious!)

A tidbit:

Other figures are important because they put their more famous coevals in context or, in the case of the aforementioned Greenberg, complicate the reception of a major poet and make us question the minor/major distinction altogether. Lines from Greenberg appear, without attribution, in Hart Crane’s work, a theft that Caples deems inexcusable. At first glance, the lines from Greenberg quoted in “Quintessence” are tough going, and gnomic even to Caples. (“Why, of all things, is science ‘the smithy of the sea’?” he asks. “Indeed, what could ‘smithy of the sea’ itself mean?”) Punctuation can be baffling, and “spelling is highly idiosyncratic, occasionally yielding a word of uncertain meaning.” (“What Greenberg meant by ‘woob’ is anyone’s guess,” Caples writes.) But Caples considers Greenberg, who died at the absurdly young age of 23, a master of “sonorousness”: “For all the editorial fussing over his technical and grammatical imperfections, Greenberg never lays a bad line; his poems are sheer song, little musical constructions that resist outside interference.”

(This is the second of three fun, dissimilar pieces I've been working on this fall. The first is here.)

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