Sunday, February 19, 2012

Poetry with an Edge: It's not only hearts and flowers

by Jamie Freveletti

I'm headed to a poetry slam this week and was thinking about the poetry I love; the nice and not-so-nice. I must admit, most of my favorite poetry is of the not-so-nice category and that which has hidden meanings.

I'll never forget reading Keats' Ode to a Grecian Urn and being a tad...bored. The lovers chasing each other into infinity is an interesting image, I admit, but the rest didn't really catch me until the last famous line about beauty and truth. I was in an English Literature class in college when a substitute teacher showed up. His name was Lucien Stryk and he was teaching Ode and called on me to give my thoughts.

"Boring," I said. "But I like that last line." He didn't seem insulted, but began teaching a poem by Sylvia Path. He started to talk about her life and I recall raising my hand and asking, "Do all poets have to be tragic figures? Or can you be balanced as a person and still write it?"

I'll never forget him laughing. Then he pulled out the poem that I love to this day: My Last Duchess, by Robert Browning. It's a poem written by a nasty, evil man and I gasped at the end when I realized what he had done.

I read all of Browning and bought his collection of poems, which managed to survive all of my moves throughout the world and is on my bookshelf today. I read it when I need to create a subtle, but nasty villain.

When Mr. Stryk left the class he pointed at me and said, "I expect you'll be writing one day." I remember wondering why he thought such a thing. Guess experience shows, because he was right.

The other creepy poem that I love is Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti. This poem talks about evil, demon-like trolls that suck the life out of their victims and leave them gray and withering. Great stuff and the lesbian imagery struck me as pretty blatant for a poem from an earlier century, but when I asked my teacher, who had returned for this class, if anyone else had commented on this aspect he frowned and shut down the question. I remember thinking that Mr. Stryk would have answered me, and I went off to research it myself. (Seems that feelings are mixed; some say the imagery is deliberate, but others think that Rossetti didn't mean to imply this, but had begun working at a home for wayward women and was warning of the ruin that comes to women who are used by men and flung aside. These critics think that she was trying to write about sisterhood.).

From there we went to WB Yeats, The Second Coming, and I was hooked. The idea of a demon slouching toward Bethlehem is exactly what a thriller writer would love: impending doom heading our way.

For a grim view of World War I, read Wilfred Owen's Dolce Et Decorum Est. This poem, written by a soldier who fought and died in the war, describes mustard gas poisoning in a heartbreaking series of lines that will stick with you.

I'm looking forward to the slam for a dose of edgy, concise and affecting imagery. Should be a great event!


John said...

I have never developed much of a reading habit of poetry, Jamie, but your article might help jump-start an expanding of my horizons! :-)


Barbara D'Amato said...

My favorite is Matther Arnold's "Dover Beach."

Jamie Freveletti said...

Barbara- just read Dover Beach. So sad-but the sadness kind of creeps up on you, doesn't it?

Barbara D'Amato said...

Yes, it's grim, but very rational. No heart and flowers.

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Silent Things said...

Poetry should never be boring! It should be so alive you can hardly stand it. Nice post.

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