Showing posts with label Modern Poetry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Modern Poetry. Show all posts

Forum Thread: "My Get Up and Go Has Got Up and Went" (Anonymous Folk Poetry)

[Note: this thread was originally posted in April 2008, but I thought it was worth a bump up to 2011.]
I'm going to crawl out on a limb here and make a case for why most modern academic poetry will not endure beyond this generation.

This morning, a traditional folk poem was published in our morning paper (York Daily Record, 10 April 2008, 6A) as part of "Save Those Clippings," by Richard Bowers, a column on aging and how older people seem to collect clippings and other stuff throughout their lives; the author even mentioned Emily Dickinson's penchant for collecting things: "After her death they found volumes of scraps with thoughts (her own and others) that were like seeds from which grew her marvelous poems."

Bowers suggested that his readership pour themselves a cup of coffee, sit back, relax, and read the following traditional/folk poem on aging:
How do I know my youth is all spent?

Well, my Get-up-go has Got-up-and-went.

But in spite of it all, I'm able to grin,

When I think of where my "Get Up" has been.

Old age is golden, I think I've heard it said.

But sometimes I wonder as I crawl into bed,

With my ears in a drawer, my teeth in a cup,

And my eyes on the table until I wake up,

'Ere' sleep dims my vision, I say to myself,

"Is there anything else I should lay on the shelf?"

And I'm happy to say, as I close my door--

"My friends are the same, perhaps even more."

But nations are warring and business is vexed

So I'll stick around to see what happens next.

When I was young, my slippers were red,

I could kick up my heels right over my head.

When I grew older, my slippers were blue,

But still I could dance the whole [night] day through.

But I am old, my slippers are black,

I walk [huff] to the store and [I] puff my way back.

But never you laugh, I don't mind at all

I'd rather be huffing than not puff at all

The reason I know my youth is all spent,

"My Get Up and Go has Got Up and Went."

But I really don't mind when I think with a grin

Of all the grand places my "Get Up" has been.

Since I have retired from life's competition,

I accommodate myself with complete submission.

So, I get up each morning and dust off my wits,

Open the paper and read the obits,

If my name is missing, I know I'm not dead,

And I eat a good breakfast and go back to bed.
[Bracketed words were added by Pete Seeger for a song of the same title.]

This poem, published in a market of about 350,000 people, probably received more views on one day than any published modern chapbook in its entire life cycle.

Now why is that?

"My Get Up and Go Has Got Up and Went" is certainly not "great" poetry; it doesn't play with language, doesn't stun with great metaphors and imagery, doesn't pretend to be the unknown poet's grand opus.

It's just a poem that focuses on the human condition and in a way that the Uncle Lyles of middle America can understand and enjoy. "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" does the same thing, but in a way that does not reach everyone.

Now I love Prufrock, but I must admit it has taken me several readings to get there, and I still don't understand everything in that poem. But I'm an academic, and I'm expected to engage in a poetic struggle with Prufrock and his problems. But the average poetry aficionado can just get up and leave. And does. And will continue to do so. Now T.S. Eliot's work will endure, simply because the academy says it will by continuing to publish his poems in anthologies and imposing it on college freshmen. Perhaps Eliot's work endures because he was the first to wrestle with language in that long meandering manner, with vivid metaphors and similes, so he gets a pass for getting there first, just as e.e. cummings has been forgiven for all the imitative lower case "i" poems that have dogged his work.

But here's the deal: once my students move on from Prufrock, most of them will forget him or only remember him as that strange old guy with the thinning hair, talking of bugs struggling on pins, yellow fog rubbing its back, crabs, peaches, women coming and going and speaking of Michelangelo.

Now back to "My Get Up and Go Has Got Up and Went." I remember this poem from my childhood. Being raised by grandparents, I was privy to aging issues from a very young age. For amusement, my grandmother often dragged me to funerals of distant acquaintances and even strangers just because they were "from the parish." My grandmother loved this poem and knew it practically by heart. Of course, I'd roll my eyes and wished I could hang with younger people, but guess what? In an odd way, this poem has stuck with me. When I read it in this morning's paper, it struck a chord and brought back a past that no longer exists.

I can read a New Yorker poem by a famous poet, and five minutes later, it's gone. No footprint at all. And it doesn't even matter if the poem is a linguistic masterpiece or just an exercise by a tired well-known poet. Something always seems to be missing.

So, today, on the way to a conference, I tried to figured out why most people feel so removed and even alienated from modern poetry, which is often well crafted and even deeply personal.

I decided that "My Get Up and Go Has Got Up and Went" would be a good poem to deconstruct, to figure out why this simple poem has endured among the masses, even touching folk singer Pete Seeger enough to write a melody for it. I came up with these reasons:

1. The poem rhymes. Readers love to read and listen to rhyme. Back in the day when most people couldn't read, rhymed poems were easy to memorize and pass down to the next generation. Also, there is something about poetic patterns that is appealing and comforting.

2. The theme is universal, easily accessible to all readers. Even as a kid, when I was rolling my eyes, I understood, at least on one level, what aging meant to my grandparents, and this poem "explained" it in a way that I could understand. Modern poetry tends to be so overly personal, almost to the point of being obtuse to most readers except for the poet's inner circle. This navel-gazing trend became popular with Sylvia Plath's works ("Daddy," "Edge," and "Ariel"); her poetry (which I love, by the way) practically requires an accompanying compendium of her life. But "My Get Up and Go Has Got Up and Went" requires no bio, cultural, or historical background.

3. The poem offers humor. Readers love to laugh and tend to shy away from works that are too dark. Modern poetry tends to offer too little humor, not even dark humor.

4. It's sentimental and smarmy. People love poems that make them cry and remember back when--nothing like a good tear jerker to get your day started. I really noticed this in Macedonia, at parties where the rakjia flowed, the hankies and guitars came out, and the sad songs about lost love and lost nations were sung and wailed. These people were intellectuals, too, but they weren't ashamed of their beloved folk songs and poems.

5. The poem is predictable in its rhyme, diction, structure, and, yes, cliches. Poetry that allows the reader to remain in his/her comfort zone is going to stick with him/her emotionally, even intellectuals.

6. The poem tells a story, the narrative about the slippers (red, blue, and black) ties the story together and actually depicts the aging process, using the slippers as a sort of extended metaphor.

7. The poem is generally upbeat in tone and actually has a warped happy ending: I'm not listed in the obits today, so all is well with the world. Wow! Why not go out and celebrate with breakfast at Denny's? It's a glorious day to be alive and not a good day to die! What's not to like about that?

8. The poem is timeless, no tedious references to popular culture that will fade within a few years and require extensive footnoting. Its meaning will be as accessible in 2108 as it is today.

9. The poem is slightly ribald ("Of all the grand places my 'Get Up' has been"), but not so much that grandpa couldn't read the poem to his granddaughter. The double entendre allows the elders a "wink, wink" moment as the kiddies have fun with the rhyme and wordplay. Hell, you could read this poem in church.

10. The poem is simple--one does not need pages of literary criticism to decode meaning--it's all right there on the surface. Yet the poem doesn't speak down to the readers; its language is simple, yet descriptive enough to paint a glad-to-be-alive moment in the speaker's life.

It would be so easy to sneer at a poem like "My Get Up and Go Has Got Up and Went," but in an odd way, this poem has and will continue to endure because it deals with a very common aspect of the human condition: aging. Anyone who is fortunate enough to get older will face the very issues the poem covers. For more of intellectual exercise, one might read Stanley Kunitz's "Touch Me," which covers some of the same themes, albeit on a higher level--although with some multiple readings this is still an accessible poem.

"My Get Up and Go Has Got Up and Went" will continue to appear on the pages of daily newspapers (whether it's a print version delivered at one's door or appears on a computer screen), whereas most modern poems with all their sophisticated LangPo techniques will fall into obscurity, buried in old dusty and unread books.

One last note: Robert Frost's work endures and will continue to endure because of its layered nuances. We all know that "The Mending Wall" is not just about a fence between two neighbors, nor is "The Road Not Taken" just about a walk in the woods and trying to figure what literal direction to take. Yet a young or less astute reader may very well enjoy those poems on a surface level.

Thus, Frost offers the best that a poet can offer: popular enjoyment and intellectual appeal.

What are your thoughts?

Molting (Anca Vlasopolos)

Male chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)

this winter says it has settled
for good
so that even now
late March we expect
more and more snow
a post-equinox sun

yet on the finch feeder
there’s no denying
even if smiles still crack lips
that pathetic ridiculous
of olive camouflage
starting to tatter
being pushed

bright-lemon yellow
opera black
struggling toward
dapper array
males on the make

Anca Vlasopolos is the author of The New Bedford Samurai (Twilight Times Books, 2007); Penguins in a Warming World (Ragged Sky Press, 2007); No Return Address: A Memoir of Displacement (Columbia University Press, 2000); a poetry e-chapbook, Sidereal and Closer Griefs, print chapbooks Through the Straits, at Large and The Evidence of Spring; and a detective novel, Missing Members (trans. Miembros Ausentes, Madrid, 2009). She has also placed over two hundred poems and short stories in literary magazines.


Copyright 2009, Anca Vlasopolos

Posted with permission from author.


A Day at the Bird Feeder



Mild Nights (Anca Vlasopolos)


It’s a mild night we stand in--all friends
recapping the gathering, thrusts and parries,
touché and worse, wounds

a shape cuts itself out of darkness
to cross the barely lit street
a cat with a kitten held by the nape
only this is no maternal hold
this no offspring of hers
this one knows and screams and screams
and screams
till the street falls silent as we
now that death has fed


Anca Vlasopolos is the author of The New Bedford Samurai (Twilight Times Books, 2007); Penguins in a Warming World (Ragged Sky Press, 2007); No Return Address: A Memoir of Displacement (Columbia University Press, 2000); a poetry e-chapbook, Sidereal and Closer Griefs, print chapbooks Through the Straits, at Large and The Evidence of Spring; and a detective novel, Missing Members (trans. Miembros Ausentes, Madrid, 2009). She has also placed over two hundred poems and short stories in literary magazines.

Copyright 2009, Anca Vlasopolos

Posted with permission from author.


Burying the Next-Door Neighbor (Anca Vlasopolos)


like patches off an old quilt beaten for
dust her mind began to unravel

detach float settle unexpectedly
end up being fingered stepped on each day

she would stop my garden travails
air at five-minute intervals the same griefs

stuck record looped tape
memory digging wrongs

then she began to forget how to drink
feed breathe yet not how to love

for her mind’s divorce decree from her body
didn’t betray dog and cats in her care

yet despite that coming apart
or perhaps because the holding together

no longer scattered laser focus of knowing
she prophesied her near ones’ raptor gyres

and they swooped as she told me and told
and they carried her away in the night

now a dumpster sits in the driveway
colossal black bags appear at the curb

Anca Vlasopolos is the author of The New Bedford Samurai (Twilight Times Books, 2007); Penguins in a Warming World (Ragged Sky Press, 2007); No Return Address: A Memoir of Displacement (Columbia University Press, 2000); a poetry e-chapbook, Sidereal and Closer Griefs, print chapbooks Through the Straits, at Large and The Evidence of Spring; and a detective novel, Missing Members (trans. Miembros Ausentes, Madrid, 2009). She has also placed over two hundred poems and short stories in literary magazines.


Copyright 2009, Anca Vlasopolos

Posted with permission from author.


Raptors in Motion




Poetry Reading: "Daddy" (Sylvia Plath, 1932-1963)

Sylvia Plath Reads "Daddy"


Sylvia Plath wrote "Daddy" on October 12, 1962; Plath read and recorded this poem for the BBC. Thus, the voice you hear here is the real Plath.

Modern Poetry: "Crystal Day" (Gary B. Fitzgerald)

Crystal calcite ball on a light box

Almost imperceptible the change
from dark to day's first light,
a feeble streak of amber
as the coal of night ignites

and burning bursts into vivid citrine flames,
rays like rosy quartz
illuminating wisps of pearly clouds,
and a crystal day starts.

I leave for work beneath a turquoise sky,
hoping for the best,
silver clouds drift slowly
like pale ghosts into the West.

And through the crystal day I march
under marbled skies,
while, preoccupied with my work, unnoticed
the glittering morning dies.

Like shards of milky quartz white nimbus clouds
are embedded deep in sapphire fields.
I focus on my business
and the living which it wields.

Aquamarine, now, as evening arrives
slowly darkening the day
with widening bands of ruby
like a painting by Monet.

Home at last to find my gray cat Jasper
decided he should die.
Heavy and cold, my heart; he as still as stone.
I bury him as I cry.

The sun, a topaz set in amethyst,
slowly sinks from view;
clouds of gold low over your grave.
I sit, remember you.

A life is gone and, hard as rock,
diamonds glow in jet black skies.
Twilight fades back into night
and a crystal day now also dies.


Copyright 2005, Evolving - Poems 1965-2005
Copyright 2006, Specimens - Selected Poems
Gary B. Fitzgerald

Posted with permission from poet.

Photo/Illustration: Copyright 2008, Jennifer Semple Siegel


William Logan Revisited

William Logan, in late 2006, posted on his viewpoints on the state of poetry. One passage has caught my eye:

Poets who write for awards are idiots. Poets who want awards are idiots. Look at the Pulitzers from the thirties: Conrad Aiken, Robert Frost, George Dillon, Archibald MacLeish, Robert Hillyer, Audrey Wurdemann, Robert P. Tristram Coffin, Robert Frost (again), Marya Zaturenska, John Gould Fletcher. One poet of the first rank, two or three of the third, and then oblivion. You don’t see Pound or Eliot or Stevens or Moore or Williams. If you think the poets awarded the prize in the nineties will fair better, think again.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t accept awards. It’s rude not to accept something people give you. Perhaps every award should be replaced with a saguaro cactus.

The rest of Logan's post is also enlightening.

His concludes his post with this emotional outburst:

My last words on poetry:

I don’t. I don’t! I don’t hate it! I don’t hate it!

Forum Thread: Does the Difficulty of Modern Poetry Mask Its Underlying Superficiality?

In 2008, The Writer's Chronicle published a timely article: "On Difficulty in Poetry," by Reginald Shepherd. In his introduction, Mr. Shepherd says, "It's been the fashion at least since the Modernists to complain that contemporary poetry has become difficult, and that this difficulty has alienated the readers who used to flock to poetry as they now flock to John Grisham novels and American Idol" (8).

Then he refers to enduring difficult poets of the past: Shakespeare and Donne--though I would contend that these poets were not considered difficult back when they were writing their plays and poems. They're considered difficult now because their works are written in English not commonly used today.

Shepherd believes that poetry ought to challenge the reader and that total understanding of a poem is not necessary. Sometimes it's enough to appreciate the language, allusions, and structure, even when meaning eludes. He even says, "...the poem that alludes frequently eludes" (10). In other words, meaning is secondary to how a reader experiences a poem, intellectually, emotionally, and sensually.

Up to this point, I agree. "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" is definitely an elusive poem worth reading and rereading and pondering because underneath all the fancy language, allusions, metaphors, there is substance, a universality of human experience and mortality.

However, as I read some modern poems, I get the distinct feeling that they hide their underlying superficiality behind difficult language--that a poet's walk down Fifth Avenue, during which his contemplation of his grocery list has been interrupted by an ill-timed bomb by an overhead bird will not be enhanced by complicated allusions to Prometheus.

Shepherd says, "Poems considered difficult often allude to material outside the common literary or intellectual frame of reference. Modern poetry is particularly difficult in its wide range and idiosyncratic, often inexplicit, deployment of allusion" (13).

Perhaps that is debatable; what I see in modern poetry is a tendency toward sameness, a flat affect, a self-indulgent contemplation about nothing masked by high-toned literary language: all style, little substance.

The question posed here: "Does the Difficulty of Modern Poetry Mask Its Underlying Superficiality?"

Feel free to comment.


Shepherd, Reginald. The Writer's Chronicle," May/Summer 2008, Vol. 40, Number 6, 8-14.

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