Friday, July 24, 2009
The Poetry of Middle Age
The poetry of youth is a cliche, of course, as is the poetry of old age, death approaching - "no country for old men." Yet as we live longer, and as our own interests develop, there's surely a desire for a poetry of middle age, of experience, not innocence if you like. I was thinking this whilst reading C.K. Williams' impressive collected poems. Faced with such a large collection I decided to start, not at the beginning, but with his 1999 Pulitzer winner "Repair." These are long, discursive poems, of life lived, of memory, but of experience and knowledge, not of regret. Take "The Poet", where he remembers "Bobby the Poet, though whether he ever was one or not...might be a question," or "King" remembering MLK, and telling a story of American racism through memory of people walking to King's memorial service. What you see is memory used as a powerful device, not as nostalgia, but as a strong tool for explaining the present, through the sharp recall of experience. We need a poetry like this, of middle- or late- age, that gives a perspective that the poetry of the moment can't give and yet is not yet elegiac or resigned. Wonderful stuff. I met, and heard read, Williams last year in Norwich, and having his voice in my head as I read these extended lines, helped immensely - they are masterly, having a spaciousness that never overextends or becomes too languid.