Poetic Juice

Poetic Juice

Poetic Juice

Recent posts from our readers forum.
Nov. 5 1999 3:30 AM

Poetic Juice

Subject: Poems That Satisfy

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Date: Fri Oct 29

I doubt there are any more questions you have yet to answer with regards to poets and poetry, you, or your poems, but for the sake of obtaining a reply from you, here's a groupie's question: What poem of yours has satisfied you the most?

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Subject: Re: Poems That Satisfy

From: Robert Pinsky

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Date: Fri Oct 29

Kristine, this is like a parent being asked to name a favorite child. And to stretch that metaphor, the youngest one--the one just finished--sometimes gives the greatest satisfaction.

Once, when I visited a writing class in a medium-security prison, one of the inmates, urged by his classmates, recited by memory my little poem "Exile." That was a satisfying moment. Entering another person's memory with your words, perhaps a person quite different from yourself, is in certain ways more glorious than any prize or title.

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[U.S. Poet LaureateRobert Pinsky is Slate's poetry editor.]

Subject: Starting the Poetic Engine

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Date: Fri Oct 29

As a general habit, how do you personally start writing a new poem? Do you start with an interesting title and then write around it? Or an interesting first line? Or the kernel of a core subject/message? Or simply an abstract rhythm, cadence, or melody to which you must give voice?

Once you start, how do you know you're done? When does it feel complete?

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Subject: Re: Starting the Poetic Engine

From: Robert Pinsky

Date: Fri Oct 29

A good question, but not only is everybody different--many of us are different at different times of life, maybe even at different times of day.

The best I can describe the process for me is that it resembles noodling on a piano: I run rhythms and sentences--or maybe not even sentences, the shapes of sentences--across one another, trying out their sounds, and sometimes I get a tune-like combination of sound and syntax that makes me want to go on, extend and refine it, as it comes to dredge sustenance from the great pool of feelings and ideas that accumulates in a life.

It's a physical process, because the voice is physical. And everything I've said about germination applies to termination--a silly rhyme I've just stumbled on--as well.

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Subject: Scorsese's Aesthetic Genius

From: Simon Warner

Date: Mon Nov 1

I agree that Scorsese is probably the most important director working in America today, but I find it less easy to pass over his 1993 film TheAge of Innocence [as A.O. Scott does]. I completely disagree that this film substitutes intensity for emotion. The point about Raging Bull being difficult to watch many times is well made but Age of Innocence improves with each viewing.

The film is the most beautiful thing I can remember (Kundun comes close though). The subtlety of the direction is breathtaking, with three moments standing out for me: the bursts of color exploding onto the screen during the opera sequence; the steadicam shot of Daniel Day Lewis entering the post-opera ball (with Joanne Woodward's sublime voice-over); and my favorite, one quick external shot of Pfeiffer's house, showing it seemingly in the middle of nowhere and saying more in a single shot about her social exclusion than other directors could achieve in three pages of dialogue. If you have not seem this gem recently I urge you to revisit it, it's fantastic.

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Subject: Re: Scorsese's Aesthetic Genius

From: David Edelstein

Date: Mon Nov 1

I can't speak for A.O. Scott, but I saw [Age of Innocence] again a few months ago and found the technique that you admire a distraction. A critic at the time described the movie admiringly as "virile"--and I'm forced to agree. Scorsese is working so hard to show that he can make a "women's picture" in a robust manner that he loses touch with his supposed themes. And he doesn't begin to get inside his impotent male protagonist's head. You're right the film is full of astonishing moments--stuff as good on its own terms as anything Scorsese has done. But I wonder if anyone even remembers what the film is supposed to be about.

Kundun, on the other hand, really is a triumphant merging of form and content. I'm less enchanted by the content than many, but I certainly respect Scorsese's struggle to alter his directorial voice and usual amphetamine rhythms to portray the Dalai Lama.

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[David Edelstein is Slate's movie critic.]

Subject: Re: Scorsese's Aesthetic Genius

From: A.O. Scott

Date: Mon Nov 1

I wish I'd had sufficient space to say more about Age of Innocence--not to mention Kundun, After Hours, and Goodfellas--but I pretty much agree with [Edelstein's] take on it. It does indeed have virtuosic moments, but the central love triangle is entirely inert. Scorsese just doesn't do courtship as well as he does male friendship. I think that Age is a case, like Raging Bull, of Scorsese overwhelming the audience with technique, and producing visceral effects rather than emotional responses. (This is true of Goodfellas as well, in my view--a completely exhilarating movie that nonetheless has a certain coldness at its heart.)

Now, these effects are powerful, and the technical command behind them is extraordinary--unparalleled, I'm willing to stipulate, among American directors of Scorsese's generation. The argument of my piece is that Scorsese is often hailed as a visionary on the basis of his technical discipline and formal panache, but that in too many cases the vision seems tired or blurred. I wish I'd had space and time to examine each of Scorsese's films more closely, and to contextualize them to everyone's satisfaction, but I've enjoyed following this discussion so far and look forward to more.

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Subject: Chatterbox Lost in the Wilderness?

From: Robert Lewis

Date: Tues Nov 2

The account of Robert E. Lee's manservant [Rev. Wm. Mack Lee] seems to be made up of whole cloth, as he recounts how Marse Robert got mad at him only once during the entire Civil War--on July 3, 1863, down in the Wilderness. As July 3rd was in the middle of the Battle of Gettysburg, it seems unlikely.

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Subject: Re: Chatterbox Lost in the Wilderness?

From: Tim Noah

Date: Wed Nov 3

Several Civil War buffs have written to the Fray to point out that in my "bumfuzzle" Chatter item Rev. Lee's memoir snippet can't possibly be true because Robert E. Lee was at Gettysburg and Stonewall Jackson was dead on the specific date Rev. Lee mentions.

My item correctly quoted Rev Lee's book, but it [the book] was written when Rev. Lee was an old man and is obviously faulty on this point. It's also possible that the error lay with the reporter whose article Rev. Lee was quoting from in his book. (None of the above, incidentally, has any bearing on Lee's usage of the word "bumfuzzled.")

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Subject: O.J. the Alpha Male

Date: Tues Nov 2

The confluence of Gore's attempt to become an alpha male and the death of Walter Payton brings to mind the now-macabre episode of Saturday Night Live hosted by O.J. Simpson, the quintessential alpha. In one skit, O.J. and a friend are watching football on TV and Walter Payton is close to topping O.J.'s rushing record. O.J. tells his friend what a great athlete Walter is and how he wishes the man all the best. And then he goes to the kitchen for a beer and sticks pins into a Walter Payton voodoo doll. "Payton is down, leg injury!" the sportscaster shouts.

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