Click Image to Visit the Pecan Grove Press Web Page for Poetry from Paradise Valley


Poetry From Paradise Valley

Pecan Grove Press has released an anthology of poems, a sampling of works published in Valparaiso Poetry Review during its first decade, from the original 1999-2000 volume to the 2009-2010 volume.

Poetry from Paradise Valley includes a stellar roster of 50 poets. Among the contributors are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a winner of the Griffin International Prize, two Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, two National Book Critics Circle winners, six finalists for the National Book Award, four finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and a few dozen recipients of other honors, such as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Poetry from Paradise Valley page at the publisher's web site, where ordering information about the book can be found.

Best Books of Indiana 2011: Finalist. Judges' Citation: "Poetry from Paradise Valley is an excellent anthology that features world-class poetry, including the work of many artists from the Midwest, such as Jared Carter, Annie Finch, David Baker, and Allison Joseph. It’s an eclectic and always interesting collection where poems on similar themes flow into each other. It showcases the highest caliber of U. S. poetry."
—Indiana Center for the Book, Indiana State Library

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Charles Simic on Poetry and History

To close out a week in which this blog’s articles examined issues concerning the relationship between poetry and politics (view links to additional posts below), “One Poet’s Notes” turns toward focusing upon a viewpoint concerning the possibility poets may have a unique responsibility to record social history, particularly in those moments that carry political significance. Although this entry is being posted before the polls open for Election Day, one can be assured the voting results later today will be historic no matter which party wins, and compliments are extended to all participating on either side of the political aisle. Surely, we will all be witnesses to history in its making. Soon afterward, reflection will inevitably take shape in words written to preserve and comprehend more completely the moment. One hopes some of those words will be presented in lines of poetry.

After all, throughout the ages poets have attempted to chronicle the extraordinary and emblematic events of their times. This tradition should continue in the twenty-first century, and at times it has. A number of recent poetry collections have presented eloquent and evocative works that have recorded and responded to historic happenings, from the wars in Vietnam or Iraq to the aftermath of 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina. Nevertheless, during the past two decades some critics have insisted contemporary poets too often have not fully or successfully narrated those or other current situations—whether involving positive or negative incidents, depicting tragic actions or instances of elation—they might have found in the world around them.

Therefore, the following comments by Charles Simic, former Poet Laureate of the United States, about the importance of an ongoing relationship between poetry and history, though authored more than twenty years ago, still appear relevant, perhaps especially on a day like this. As has always been true in the past, there yet remains a need—even an enthusiasm among some—expressed by many readers wishing to encounter poems containing what Simic describes as “a passionate desire for accuracy for the here and now in its miraculous presence.”

The poet like anyone else is part of history, but he or she ought to be the conscious part. That’s the ideal. That’s what one hears in Brecht, in Ingeborg Bachmann, in Milosz, in Whitman’s Drum-Taps. One of the most terrifying lines of twentieth-century poetry is by Salvatore Quasimodo. It speaks of “the black howl of the mother gone to meet her son crucified on the telegraph pole . . ..” That strikes me as absolutely right. I prefer it to a poem like Richard Eberhart’s “The Fury of Aerial Bombardment.” The same horror is in both poems but not the fury of the imagination which brings us this poor mother. Also, the business about God being silent and indifferent to our suffering in Eberhart’s poem does not have the immediacy and the starkness of this commonplace twentieth-century crucifixion. As the Polish playwright Witkiewics says: “What are ideas, after all, before the horror of the immediately given.”

If history, as it comes through the historian, retains, analyzes, and connects significant events, in contrast, what poets insist on is the history of “unimportant” events. In place of historian’s “distance,” I want to experience the vulnerability of those participating in tragic events. In other words, Sappho rather than Homer as model. His sacred times, the time of myth, versus her time, which is the moment, forever irreversible. Beginning with Sappho’s insomnia, there’s a tradition of the poem which says “I exist” in the face of all abstractions of cosmos and history, a poem of a passionate desire for accuracy for the here and now in its miraculous presence. I am not talking about confession. The best poetry of this kind is conspicuous by the absence of ego. The most reliable “histories” are told by first-person pronouns who remain subordinate, even anonymous. History teaches humility. My own physical and spiritual discomfort is nothing in comparison to that of those being imprisoned and tortured tonight all over the world.

My subject is really poetry in times of madness. There are people out there who have the means to murder me and everyone I love without giving us advance notice. We are all on a death row. Every day as I read the newspaper and watch TV, I worry that our pardon is not forthcoming, that our situation is highly uncertain, ambiguous and unenviable. I didn’t say “serious” because there’s something laughable too in our predicament. It’s our cleverness that did it, all those whiz kids that we admired so much. I want poetry that would reflect the whole range of these contradictions. I am astonished, therefore, when I see that for most poetry today history does not exist. One can read literally hundreds of pages of contemporary poetry without encountering any significant aspect of our common twentieth-century existence. The poets write about Nature and they write about themselves in the most solipsistic manner, but they don’t write about their executioners.

When all is said and done, I understand nothing about the world. I only have forebodings, terrible ones, that the future will bring more crimes and no utopias. I only see, hear, and feel. Thinking I am getting nowhere . . ..

Perhaps it is the fate of the person who does not see far enough, or is afraid to look beyond, to overvalue what is nearest him. In other words, I am thoroughly of my own age and that age’s contradictions. For the Greek Protagoras truth meant the unconcealment of what is present. The poet can only do that now. One must, in spite of everything, give faithful testimony of our predicament so that a true history of our age might be written.

The excerpts offered here have been selected from Charles Simic’s essay, “Notes on Poetry and History,” which was among those included in his 1985 book, The Uncertain Certainty: Interviews, Essays, and Notes on Poetry, published as part of the Poets on Poetry series by the University of Michigan Press.

[Visitors are urged to read previous commentaries in this week’s series about poetry and politics drawn from works by Howard Nemerov, Carolyn Forché, Muriel Rukeyser, Stanley Kunitz, and Robert Pinsky.]

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