A Spectrum of Aesthetics, Part I

I’ve decided to post part of the final paper I wrote for a contemporary American poetry course. There’s a huge debate these days about academic writers versus those who write independently, but in my mind the rift is more about aesthetics and publishing trends. It’s also about, who owes us a favor, who wants to curry favor with us, how eager we are to have our work published, and the circles we travel in.

Unfortunately, the best art is not always discovered within the artist’s lifetime, as we all know.

To get an idea about what some critics are saying, read Anis Shivani’s review of The Best American Poetry, 2010. Be prepared for some harsh statements! Also relevant is The New Math of Poetry by David Alpaugh. Thanks to poet, novelist, journalist and all around brilliant writer Collin Kelley for posting these links and keeping me abreast of the controversy.


Like the polarization of values found within the U.S. political system, the poetry world also disagrees about aesthetics: the New York School sometimes conflicts with Southern narrative poets; New Formalists  shake their heads at those who cling to Walt Whitman and the rule of free verse.

With the growth of the Internet and the ability to write and share poems by merely lifting the lid of a laptop, poetry, the people’s art, reflects the diversity of those who write it. Academic poets compete with coffee house, spoken-word artists for readership and attention.

Nature poets espouse a return to the woods for inspiration, writing haiku and renga in the manner of Basho; other poets have embraced a postmodern ethos that reflects a strong sense of irony. The latter express an art form that some identify with an outgrowth of a scientific worldview that rejects religion as an answer to life’s mysteries.

Some literary theorists, philosophers, and even poets would go as far as to argue the irrelevance of the question “where did we come from and where will we go when we die?” But as Edward Hirsch explains in How to Read a Poem, even poetry of despair is a calling out to humanity, and signals a kind of hope. When he claims that “[d]espair is a turning away from human commerce, it is silence” (157),  he defends the act of writing about despair as a signal of wanting to connect with the other.


View of the Hudson (photo taken by my husband)

View of the Hudson (photo taken by my husband)

3 thoughts on “A Spectrum of Aesthetics, Part I

  1. Mike says:

    Thanks so much for posting this;I loved reading it. I love the art of poetry as it expresses the desires (often enough)of soul.


  2. Dave says:

    Not to carp (because arguments about poetics drive me nuts), but I do want to point out parenthetically that haiku and renga can and probably should be about anything. The perception you express here, that they’re primarily anture-oriented, is pretty widespread, though, I admit. The only reason virtually all of my own haiku are about nature is because I don’t get into town much. 🙂


  3. christine says:

    Hey, Dave, thanks for leaving a comment. I didn’t mean it personally about haiku and renga. I’ve merely seen a split along the lines of nature versus urban/ironic/social criticism in the poetry I’ve been reading and in the debates I’ve listened to. That one sentence just gives an example of some of the schisms I’ve witnessed. It’s a generalization I added for the sake of illustration. I don’t read much hailku or renga, and I don’t claim to be any sort of expert on it.


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