Saturday, 28 May 2011

Full of It

  Penned a 'Disgruntled of Ladbroke Grove' type email to the Guardian Review last week to complain about a poetry article by John Fuller last Saturday, which was not only quite remarkably asinine for a poet of his standing but also factually wrong. My 'letter' didn't get published, but the three responses to Fuller that were included covered similar points as I was making (perhaps more lucidly or concisely).
  For what it's worth this is what I wrote:
  'John Fuller's assertion, in his article about "the puzzles of poetry" (Riddles in the sands, 21.5.11) - "No-one really seems to know, for example, why Coleridge calls his lime-tree bower ( ...) a "prison" in his poem This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison " - is itself extremely puzzling.
   Coleridge's prefatory note to the poem explains that "In the June of 1797 some long-expected friends paid a visit to the author's cottage; and on the morning of their arrival, he met with an accident, which disabled him from walking during the whole time of their stay." The poem is perfectly clear in evoking a scenario of its I-narrator being left behind against his will while his friends have gone out walking, making the bower in which he sits a gently ironic, metaphorical "prison".
   But Fuller's whole piece is off the mark: his suggestion that poems can be reduced to crossword-like puzzles that can be "solved" is a deeply misleading over-simplification of how poetry operates. He fails to acknowledge that his crude reading of Wallace Stevens' The Plot Against the Giant' is only one interpretation of many, providing an example of how the symbolic resonances of poetry are marred by having this kind of literalising story superimposed upon them. As Stevens wrote elsewhere: "The poem should resist the intelligence almost successfully."

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