I just finished my bi-weekly five-and-a-half-hour drive back to Maryland, where my friend and colleague Craig, who shares my birthday about thirty years later, also shares my wireless broadband connection so he can play World of Warcraft, from North Carolina (the drive, not Craig), where my wife and I shared the house with 4 teen-aged girls, only half of them ours. What's more, if more's needed, I haven't finished the Valentine's Day poem—make that I haven't started the Valentine's day poem. So this post will resemble my scattered and wired-on-coffee brain, which I can't quite see how to tie in to scattered, covered, and smothered hash-browns at Waffle House, where we eat every Christmas. I did cook hash-browns this weekend. And pork stir-fry. And chicken parmegiana. I cook pretty well.
North of Richmond I listened to a radio broadcast of a discussion on civil political discourse between Senators Bob Dole and George McGovern. As I approached the Governor Harry Nice(!) Bridge, McGovern told the tale of how Senator Sam Erwin, not-to-be-flustered by an awkward question from Senator Mike Mansfield, in reply told the tale of the Sunday School teacher who answered the question "Where did Cain and Abel get their wives?" with "That's the sort of impertinent question that gives religion a bad name," and was beginning to explain the point of the story (stories?) when reception failed and I turned on my iPod to shuffle-by-song and iTrip to 87.9 and was greeted by T. S. Eliot reading "The Waste Land" just as I crossed the peak of the bridge and began my descent into Charles County.
It's actually pretty amazing to hear Eliot read the thing, and every time I hear it, it becomes clearer that almost the whole of his criticism is intended to justify that one poem, and it's almost worth it, this truly great poem defended by such brilliantly wrong thinking about poetry, and both the poem and the thinking with such bizarre descendants.
Take Kasey Mohammad's recent (well, I'm late to the party, as usual these days—sucks having a day job where you can't openly read, write or think about poetry) posts about the modes of lyric poetry (here and here), which are, apparently, Classical, Petrarchan, Romantic, and Abstract. Kasey's discussion, like Eliot's criticism (and most of Kasey's blogging), is informed, interesting, and convincing. Except that, except for a brief "lyre is not entirely metaphorical" in introducing the classical mode, nothing he has to say has anything in particular to do with poetry—he could as well have been discussing prose, with, for instance, The Decameron illustrating the Petrarchan mode. It's as if poetry were nothing more than a moral-intellectual stance.
Then right after "The Waste Land" came "Provide, Provide," a poem I love more than, but which is certainly not as important as Eliot's magnum opus (I can't read the "Quartets" anymore). But really, Mr. Frost— naming the former "picture pride of Hollywood"Abishag for the sake of a rhyme with "hag" and "rag"? And what's the point of this stanza?
Some have relied on what they knew;
Others on simply being true.
What worked for them might work for you.
And can anyone love "The Waste Land"?
I dunno. But I've added two blogs over on the left: Laura Heidy's Terminal Chaosity and Julie Carter's carter's little pill. I've never met either of them, but I've known Julie online for more than ten years, I think, from the Usenet group alt.arts.poetry.comments and from Poetry Free For All. Hi, Julie!