Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Is "everyone a poet"?

"Everyone is a poet" someone recently and remarked, and that is certainly true in a broad sense.   A young man with no poetic talent will (while young) write "poems" to his beloved.  He feels that what he feels deserves more than prose and so he writes a poem and if his beloved is properly appreciative who is to say he failed? 

In the past century and still in this one to become a "poet" involves becoming accepted by on or more of the Mandarins who control the poetry magazines, but in China where some of the best poetry of the past was written during a time when "everyone was a poet" -- at least in court where everyone could read and write, one simply wrote for a friends. 

There was a review of a new book on Pound in the NYROB or the LROB in which the reviewer said that Pound's translations of Chinese poetry in Cathay were the best by anyone ever.  I don't have the entire Cathay but I have a few of them in The Library of America's Ezra Pound, Poems and Translations.  They are good, maybe better than Pound's original poetry, but do they deserve the reviewer's superlative?

Then in Hew Strachan's The First World War, he wrote of Wilfred Owen who was killed in action 4 November 1918, "The war both did for Owen and made him.  He returned to the front line when he could probably have avoided doing so, telling his mentor, Siegfried Sassoon, 'Serenity Shelley never dreamed of crowns me'.  The war gave him the material which transformed him into one of the greatest English poets of the twentieth century."  I always like Owen but whenever I had read about him it was as a poet with great potential who was cut down before being able to achieve it.  Is Strachan right?  Did Owen achieve his potential because the war enabled him to do so?  I looked for my copy of Owen's poetry but couldn't find it.  I tend to think that Owen was not great -- on the other hand Strachan might still be right.

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