Monday, April 30, 2012

the "madness" of the poet (a commentary)

I'm beginning to read The Modern Poet, by Robert Crawford (Professor of Modern Scottish Literature, St. Andrews, published by Oxford University Press). Professor Crawford "…shows how many successive generations of poets have needed to collaborate and to battle with academia" (quoted from the cover). As I read the Introduction, I'm impressed with many of the writer's insights, and certainly with his abundance of data, but dismayed by a continuing referral to the "madness" of poets. Why does he prefer this word to "inspired" which has a different, and more positive, connotation?  

It has been a common delusion in "modern" times that poets are "mad", even need to be "mad" to write poetry, and madness is not exactly what most people trust (Professor Crawford among them?).  Too, a poet's personal aberrations can become confused with his talent, as though sanity and insanity, at least temporarily, really go together, and this confusion is not uncommon in academia. Most writers of poetry associate their art with their highest awareness and sometimes call it 'revealed truth', a gift as it were. Poetry is found in high places; but how many reach those places? In that context, the association of poetry with "madness" is inherently oppressive -- with enough repetition, the young, especially, are subtly discouraged from reaching for it with thought and feeling, and encouraged instead as part of their "education" to conform and be "normal" (where a great deal of real insanity is fostered). Dr. Crawford, with one foot in academia, reveals the nature of the poet's "battle with academia" in his choice of words.

Here is a bit of verse related to this theme (as all poetry is):

The Visitor
Like rain dropping into the sea
like mist evaporating
when boundaries disappear
I grow larger and larger


The shape-shifter that sets me free
unveils what I hold too tightly,
lives behind my masks and in them,
in stones too, and mere words


Faithful as a rising sun
love appears dressed in light
to unite with me, to create new life,
when I am willing.

(by Joneve McCormick)

See also interview with Poetry Pacific.

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