Friday, August 29, 2014

Death Slam

Allen Grossman
At the end of the obituary of Allen Grossman (“Allen Grossman, a Poet’s Poet and Scholar, Dies at 82,” NYT, 6/29/14), Bruce Weber  cites one of the deceased poets critical works, The Sighted Singer: Two Works on Poetry for Readers and Writers. Grossman is quoted as saying: “Poetry is a principle of power invoked by all of us against our vanishing. The making of poems is a practice—a work human beings can do—in which civilization has invested some part of its love of itself and the world. The poem is a trace of the will of all persons to be known and to make known and therefore, to be at all.” Pretty cool, huh? Sure what Grossman is saying about poetry could also be said about many human endeavors. Having children who remember you after you’ve died is one. The therapeutic encounter in which the psychiatrist or analyst becomes the repository of memory is another, albeit a more fragile one since the vessel may predecease the source of existential material with which it’s being filled. Nothing is immortal. In billions of years when the earth dies, it’s unlikely Shakespeare’s sonnets will be preserved in some form of celestial ether. However, sure poetry is a bulwark against oblivion, with great poems rising like cream in the vortex of time, to the point where they actually achieve the illusion of immortality. And on a democratic note, don’t even human beings who have never heard of the metaphysical poets or read Eliot’s “Tradition and the Individual Talent," have their fifteen minutes of fame? Don’t everyone’s s-mails, e-mails, don’t their inadvertent utterances, their cries of pain or joy, at one time or other, rise to a certain level? Doesn’t everyone, in the course of their miserable lives, write at least one great line of poetry that would have lived after them if it had been recognized?

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