Clive James on poetry in Poetry.

Under the title Little Low Heavens, and presumably a fee that’s insignificant, Clive James has contributed a long and insightful essay about how poetry works to this month’s (September 2008) issue of Poetry Magazine, 

Any poem that does not just slide past us like all those thousands of others usually has an ignition point for our attention. To take the most startling possible example, think of “Spring,” by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Everyone knows the first line because everyone knows the poem. “Nothing is so beautiful as Spring” is a line that hundreds of poets could have written, and was probably designed to sound that way: designed, that is, to be merely unexceptionable, or even flat. Only two lines further on, however, we get “Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens” and we are electrified. I can confidently say “we” because nobody capable of reading poetry at all could read those few words and not feel the wattage. Eventually we see that the complete poem is fitting, in its every part, for its task of living up to the standards of thought and perception set by that single flash of illumination….   [read on] 

 

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