Friday, September 27, 2013

ModPo 2013 #16 Pound's stunning brevity "In a Station of the Metro" and what makes a poem

Illustration by me.

In a Station of the Metro


The apparition    of these faces    in the crowd  :
Petals    on a wet, black       bough .


We took up Pound in College. Yes, I think we took up "In a Station of the Metro" in particular. It was in conjunction with the question: what is poetry? Could it be phrases read out of a catalog and arranged in "verses?"

Personally, I like "In a Station of the Metro" because it is stunning in its brevity. Like a haiku, the poem contrasts two different images: "these" people's faces in the crowd and petals on a wet, black bough. They do grip me and make me stay on the page. It is a beautiful image and it draws me into a window, a moment contemplating the ephemeral nature of a perfect moment. 

Recently, I've corresponded with some other poets and I asked them about their own ars poetica. I got a very varied response ranging from: "I don't like language poems" to "poems give glimpses of the truth." The answer that struck me the most was: poems are defined by their times. They are defined by the people who are in a position to define what poetry is, they are defined by the people who write the poetry, they are defined by the people who read poetry and they are defined by the people who choose what poetry will be published and taken up in schools (where poetry is learned). Like a painting or a piece of sculpture in a museum, a poem tells a story of the powers that were and the powers that are. 

Poetry, like any art (maybe, in their time, these pieces of "art" weren't even considered art and perhaps served a very mundane function) is a snapshot of the people, the culture, the world during its time. It contains the speaker, the chorus, the silent reader, the backdrop. In a way, it is an image of humanity. I love that. 

Note: I am currently taking a course on called Modern and Contemporary American Poetry taught by Al Filreis of the University of Pennsylvania. I will be posting my thoughts on the course discussions here.

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