A parallel agenda

Friday January 7, 2005

Stickford, Jan 7,'05
A rare treat

Reading and relishing a copy of the November 21 New York Times Book Review, a poetry issue kindly sent me by a reader, I’ve been dallying over the words, savouring every morsel. It’s a treat that doesn’t often come my way.

I see there’s a new book of poems by Gary Snyder, just out in the US. Another rare treat. I shall keep my eye open for it to be published here in the UK, and grab a copy as soon as it appears on the shelves.

In the meantime, the review, a fine piece by David Kirby, primps and titivates my fancy, in much the same way that a sorbet readies the palate before the main course arrives.

There’s much to savour here. Like the concept of poetry as an assortment of black marks on white pages that resides in the intimate space between the world and those who observe it. In support, Snyder quotes and Kirby repeats a haiku by Issa which is new to me, and perfect:


This dewdrop world
is but a dewdrop world
and yet—


Kirby goes on to report Snyder as saying:


“That ‘and yet’ is our perennial practice.”


and continues, to comment:


From this standpoint, the poet’s powers are best used to describe, with a few strokes, what’s always been out there and, if we can keep the dark forces at bay, what will always be out there, even after our own brief moment has passed.


I’m happy with that. Except that when I sit and think about it, I’m not so sure about the sideline on the ‘dark forces’. For me, what the poet describes, when he does so successfully, is independent of dark forces and, indeed, of our brief moment.

Ha hum. Whatever. There’s enough meat in this single review to set any poet to thinking. And bristling, perhaps, at the assertion that “Yesterday’s hippies are now grey-haired and prosperous and probably not reading much poetry.”

A reasonably prosperous and grey-haired hippie of the faded type, I read more poetry now than I ever did. I like to be reminded now and again of my quest to express the most with the fewest strokes, however, so I shall forgive Kirby his diversions into a parallel agenda. Critics almost always inhabit a world of parallel agendas.



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