Monday, February 18, 2008

The Poetry of Ron Padgett

When I started this blog I intended to discuss poetry more, but the poetry posts are few and far between, in part because other kinds of posts are, for obvious reasons, more popular. Nevertheless, a few words about Ron Padgett.

Ron Padgett represents a small but I think important shift in taste for me. He is a poet I was introduced to back when my undergraduate interest was shifting from philosophy to literature. I was entertained by him in part because my roommates, very much into a silly kind of surrealism, liked him so much. Here is his poem "Haiku" and "Nothing in that Drawer," which I put up on the blog a year and a half ago. Here is his poem "You Never Know":

1) What might happen.
2) How people will behave.
3) Oh anything.

Three rules that live
in the house next door.

Along comes the big bad philosopher,
and at their door
he hurls the mighty bolts
of lightning
from his brain.

The door is unimpressed.
Behind it the rules
are chuckling.

I witness this scene
through the kitchen curtains
as I rinse the dishes.

As I went deeper into literature my taste "matured" to more "serious" things like Beckett and Joyce, and when I began to focus on poetry it was the canon of great poets. Ashbery became one of my favorites in part because he had the silliness of Padgett on occasion, but was also authorized by Bloom as the inheritor of Stevens et al. Done with grad school, and having written a book on poetry, I have returned to Padgett in the last few months -- specifically his books Tulsa Kid, Great Balls of Fire, The Big Something, You Never Know, and his new one, and my favorite one, How to be Perfect.

Even the titles of these books sort of sing. Padgett is the master of a kind of charming, goofy-direct, freshness. He is surreal, but never "difficult" the way Ashbery, Carson, or even Mark Strand can be. Ashbery is a great poet, but Ashbery is also a great poet to write an essay on. I would feel faintly silly writing a serious academic essay on Padgett, maybe. But now that I am no longer required to write such self-serious essays, I find Padgett is a poet I really enjoy in a pure non-academic way. It is for this reason I say -- if you do not really read poetry, go get How to Be Perfect. Not because it is a major work of American Literature (though I suppose it might be) but because it is FUN TO READ.

I will put up the first poem in the book tomorrow, as the commonplace book entry.

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