I have enjoyed lately reading some of the discussions about what the heck is up with poetry these days. I like thinking about what counts as poetry, and not, and why--about appropriation and erasure poems, e.g.
The whole discussion reminds me of a lit class I took in college, reading Russian lit in the original, when one day the professor, fresh out of grad school herself, asked me something like "why do people read literature?" I answered "for enjoyment." She laughed uncomfortably. That was not the right answer for the class but I think it was the right answer. There are other reasons obviously, but the fact that you read literature to learn something or because it makes you feel a certain way or whatever is just another way of understanding what you enjoy, what trips your trigger. And enjoying something in this way doesn't even necessarily mean you find it enjoyable. Thankfully one can enjoy challenge, difficulty, negative emotions, etc., at least in this way I'm talking about. Why encounter (let alone make) any art at all, other than for that feeling of being alive that it gives you? It's all about the beauty, duh.
As for poetry, in my book if some set of words that someone selected and put in some particular order is interesting enough to spark debate about whether it counts as a poem, well.... That kind of answers the question, doesn't it? What else is poetry but language that invites us to consider language? To enjoy something about language besides mere meaning?
The beauty of remnants and found things has always appealed to me. I like to take prickly sets of words that I find lying around together and sort of winnow and shuffle a bit till I find a poem in them. One of my favorites of this kind of thing so far was from entries in the index to the physicist James Clerk Maxwell's library.
Last week I got a little thrill up my spine when I saw that there has been compiled a catalog and an actual virtual version of the library that Darwin seems to have had with him on the HMS Beagle. This week's found poem is cullings from the catalog. If you are the kind of person who likes looking through used bookstores, trawling the catalogue is probably going to be fun for you. And the illustrations! No words.
So. Here's my poem appropriated from entries in the catalog of the library of the HMS Beagle. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
The sacred history of the HMS Beagle
The nautical almanac and astronomical ephemeris for the year 1834.
A voyage round the world performed by order of His Most Christian Majesty.
The animal kingdom arranged in conformity with its organization.
Considerations of the evidences of a recent deluge.
Consolations in travel, or the last days of a philosopher.
Elements of the philosophy of plants.
Analogies of organized beings.
Paradise lost: a poem written in ten books.
Experimental researches on the light and luminous matter.
Account of the structure of the table mountain.
The geognosy of the Island of St. Helena, illustrated.
On the connexion of the physical sciences.
The sacred history of the world.
The habits of the carrion crow.