I’ve been reading a whole lot of wonderful poetry lately, yet, when I had to determine what to write this post about I was at a loss. Last night, I was thinking about throwing in the towel on poetry and going back to real literature. But what is real literature anyway? So in rummaging through the sea of novels in my bedroom, I came across the perfect answer to my conundrum: William Faulkner Early Prose and Poetry. Technically this book is the first Faulkner that I ever owned. I think the only thing that possessed me to pick it up was the fact that it looks old; I didn’t even know who the man was at the time of our acquaintance, but now we’re practically on a first-name basis. I bought this on the same outing that I picked up Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass–a rabbit hole that I’ve yet to fall down. So needless to say, I spent my Wednesday night paging through some of William Faulkner’s poetry and came across one that I like.
While this poem is one that I enjoy reading, the level of joy it provokes in me is unparalleled when compared to that of the Frost poem that I was unable to wrangle last week. The first thing that I enjoyed about Faulkner’s poem is its subject matter. Aptly titled, this poem is a “portrait” of youth. What Faulkner knows about a young woman’s youth escapes me; it’s clear he writes about what and how he pleases. I like a little rhyming in my poetry which this poem accommodates with the last two stanzas having the “street”/”feet” and “wall”/”all” pairs. One thing I can’t forget to mention is the trusty Faulkner triad in the line “young and white and strange.” Funnily enough, I noted this idiosyncrasy that’s stylistically imperative to any of Faulkner’s writing–even his poetry it seems–in my first-ever Faulkner post (I sure didn’t know what I was getting myself into back then). The poem is pleasant, but not passionate; it sure isn’t a Frost or an Auden for that matter.
I know I was up on my high horse saying that poetry just is and therefore poetry shouldn’t be analyzed but I’m wrong. Poetry deserves to be analyzed just as much as it deserves to be read. Poetry makes us feel. It stirs something deep inside of us and analyzing it allows you to get to the heart of why it makes you feel any given way; that’s important. I think that doing so has made me not only a better reader of poetry, but also a better writer because that’s the stuff I find it tricky to write about: the abstract, like feelings.
The other thing that was particularly interesting about this book as a whole is the article that follows “Portrait” and that is titled “Verse Old and Nascent: A Pilgrimage.” This piece feels familiar, in its description of Faulkner’s own pilgrimage into poetry, because his journey reminds me of my own. He describes that the first poet that impacted him was Swinburne. He credits the role that fate played in his discovery, saying, “Or rather, Swinburne discovered me, springing tortured undergrowth of my adolescence, like a highwayman making me his slave.” I can relate to his feeling; in my relationship with poetry, I too feel that I’m merely acquiescing to its whims. See but what I like most about this account of finding poetry (of finding one’s self in poetry) is that it’s beautifully written. Faulkner, man. Sometimes he’s too much for me to handle. He then writes that poetry, Swinburne in particular, provided him with “a flexible vessel into which I might put my own vague emotional shapes without breaking them.” This description sums up exactly what good poetry does.
Faulkner is also quite the funny man. He talks about how he employed poetry “for the purpose of furthering various philandering.” The ladies love poetry and therefore the ladies love Faulkner. Then he makes another conjecture about women, saying, “with a man, it’s art for art’s sake; with a woman, it’s art for the artist’s sake.” It seems that Faulkner’s making more assertions about the nature of woman than that of poetry. He ends the essay with a question: “Is not there among us someone who can write something beautiful and passionate and sad instead of saddening?” (Looky there another trinity) For a man who really digs hope, his prognosis for the future of poetry is bleak. Hey, but maybe he’s right and we are the future of poetry. Frightening enough, maybe I am poetry’s future. For your sake, I hope not.
Faulkner lives at the intersection of poetry and traditional writing–you know the variety found in novels. I have to say I prefer his books. The conclusion I’ve come to on fiction vs poetry face-off is that I prefer to write about the former, but I would opt to read the latter. I’m basking in the glow of the few days I have left to discuss in an English class setting, so I don’t see myself giving up poetry quite yet–especially with another post to write on Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet. I also have another Faulkner on my docket. There’s so much English and so little time. C’est la vie.