Thursday, January 21, 2010
Nicholson Baker, Part 2
Thinking more on the Anthologist after listening to a Yale online course on Milton. Learned that Milton was the first to use unrhymed blank verse in English, outside of drama. Milton's personal defense was that this scheme is used by all great epic poets: Homer and Virgil not excepted. Spenser used rhyme, of course, but was an exception and perhaps was not entirely successful as an "epic" poet from Milton's perspective--too allegorical?. This relates to my sense, as I said in a previous post, that there is a lack of elevated tone in the book to give it's meanderings weight that we might expect in heroic poetry. Camille Paglia, after writing her poetry anthology Break Blow Burn of a few years ago bemoaned the current fad for long poems (mentions Wallace Stevens as the originator of the trend with A.R. Ammons and Ashbery as key examples). Paglia, like Baker, champions the short lyric. The lyric one can see entire on a single page. The density of a short poem. I am a partisan of epics, of prophetic disjunctions--Spenser, Milton, Blake, Shelley... these are my heroes but it seems like such a mode is absent. It is cheering to know there are still champions of poetry, especially lyrical poetry but will there ever again be an age of high idealism, of epic?