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In its visiting scholar series WBL he presents a visit with a poet. Part one of the visiting scholars program of the Cleveland public schools was developed under the direction of Superintendent Paul Briggs and was designed to bring teachers and students into direct personal contact with outstanding scholars. Today we bring you an interview with Dr. Mark Van Doren poet Shakespeare scholar and former professor of English at Columbia University in 1039. Dr. Van Doren was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his collected poems. He has edited numerous anthologies of poetry the best known of which is anthology of world poetry. For many years he served as literary editor and motion picture critic of the nation. Now in the first of two interviews with Dr. Van Doren we hear some of his ideas on modern poetry and criticism. He is interviewed by Cecilia Evans of WB O.E. Dr. Van Doren.
What should we understand the term modern poetry to mean. In what ways does it differ from traditional poetry. Well in the first place it might be well to remember what the word modern mean but the word modern Moderna forms of man and what that meant commonplace. The word modern means commonplace when Shakespeare says a modern instance I mean just an ordinary example of something you can understand that through the use of the word mode. Modern poetry is in the mode now current all modern poetry means of poetry being written now that's all it meant. It's interesting that you should say that the word modern means common place. It does exactly that it doesn't have a kind of you know in many people's minds of being important and worthwhile perhaps just because it's modern rather than common plant and we can flatter ourselves that our mode is the best mode yet but modern furniture is furniture now and it's the furniture that's in the mode that has become familiar with modern painting a painting that you see everywhere and it has become
commonplace. Well the poetry thats being written now could either be traditional in the sense that it uses techniques that were used a long time ago or it could use techniques that are now being developed is that they can be new techniques as there always have been and I suppose what you mean by traditional poetry. Well it could mean that by my way of thinking. Poetry written before this time you see at any time before now. It's a it's rather confusing distinction I think. I didn't very interesting to me. Whatever is new in contemporary techniques and I prefer the word contemporary to the modern whatever is new in contemporary take that makes it worse if it produces good poetry it will probably become traditional in time it will be absorbed into the tradition tradition has a great way of absorbing heresy or have or departure from. They used to be
considered the norm. The whole history of poetry is rather consists of some single thing it goes along being very much itself all the time. Well how would you characterize current contemporary poetry as compared to more traditional poetry poetry that was produced let's say in the 19th century or in the early part of the 20th. I would say was exactly the same. You know Robert Frost for instance would you call him a current poet a contemporary poet. Yes I will he said he uses he writes in blank verse the way Shakespeare did in Milton didn't work with that or he rhyme with the way everybody did. So there's nothing new and nothing new about him except. Insofar as you have something new and something special in the very way he wrote the voice he used every portico his own voice you can somehow recognize it in his case it was famous but his voice sounded very much like conversation that you hear people speaking in that but that's always been
true. Good point and it's a good line of poetry is something that someone saying Well Frost developed that by specially in so much of his work has a narrative quoting on it and I asked him you have been out of poetry has always been the hard to put the word poetry were originally meant story. Would you say that perhaps a poet like Cummings uses techniques that are different that are perhaps more radical in a sense. Yes some of the time he did sometimes he didn't. He wrote sonnets for instance some of his very best poems a sonnet say they don't have kept the letters the beginnings of the lines and so you may not notice but they're very beautiful song as you say that say just what Shawn is always did say I love you. He wanted someone the finest love poets in the world and the language. We're going you have right now there are those funny little funny looking little poems of his with the parentheses you know and so forth. That's a trick that I don't I mean I can't believe it's very important.
I was thinking. I rather think so or more unique to him at any rate. Nobody else demand it or want to. Intends that it's fun and he was a playful fellow who liked to play around. But you read him right to find him a very powerful poet. I would say in the great tradition then you feel that there are certain basic techniques that are for most good poetry. Oh yes all good poetry is very much alike. That doesn't mean that each poet is like every other poet but they all are good. To get there somehow or other and the poet who really succeeds. Yes to succeed in his own time of course he can't sound like anybody else either before or now and import it will if it saves is accepted into the tradition somehow or other. The difference between Wordsworth and the poets of the 18th century was tremendous and there were some old hyphen people in order of time who thought that he was corrupting and
destroying poetry because he wasn't writing heroic couplets like Pope. You talked about heresies then becoming accepted all of them and they were out there they said he was totally unintelligible which seems silly to us because to us he's completely intelligible. Oh yes especially when you compare him with some of the poetry that's being produced. Yeah well that can happen mild to the poetry that seemed unintelligible to some. Can the passage of time become quite intelligible some of it doesn't of course and that isn't that's contemptible. Well I hesitate to even ask you this then but do you think of yourself Dr. VanDoren as a so-called modern poet or do you feel that you prefer a more traditional techniques. Well I don't I never have asked the question about myself and I would like to think I was both. In other words I would like to think I was a good poet because a good poet is both bound to be. You can't help it you can't help being both. He's new in the sense that he is different.
But he is not new in the sense that he is unrecognizable as a poet but he has his own voice as you know it has to be himself he has to know who he is. Yes and he has to his own style and whatever you want to call it in his own way of seeing the world. But gradually we learn what that is and if we like it then we accept him and he is accepted into the accepted into the company. If he speaks to us Yanks through yet and continues to do that do you think that literary critics have much effect on emerging new forms of poetry. Well I hear that they do. I hear that there are critics particularly in these days in these recent days. Either in or out of university because many of them are also professors of English. I hear that they influence in the sense that they almost command a certain kind of poetry to be written which would be of the sort that they
like to analyze and so forth. I think most of them are rather preposterous in the way they push what they call interpretation. And in a way they push what they call symbols. I've never known how to assemble one. You think he's too much stress on so-called symbol and I'm saluted too much. Any port that I know I know has hundreds of them. Would deny that it ever used to somebody then he didn't want me his only critics who knows what someone who know what symbol thing. And so they just go to town on these forums and tear them to pieces and try to find something at the heart of them what they think. But the point if you ask him is mystified to him as well simple approach to is a good case for that he was always outraged some people found meaning in him that he had never intended to put there. Doesn't this happen to most of our guests.
Yes I think I've noted that although there for some reason I'm not sure historically what the reason is we have become obsessed with it. That thing these days the idea of a wall art but particularly the art of portrait may be true and the other two who are being somehow or the game a game in which you are as ingenious as possible. Saying that something means something else well course everything means something else but I don't think you need to worry about that. The main thing is to stay with the thing that interests you and try to render it accurately. Then you would see that the critics do have some effect on the poets the most well I hear this I'm not sure that is true and have no effect on me good I don't regret a system I haven't read it for years. It bores me. Not any of them and never ate them. I don't need to I can't learn anything from them but I will direct criticism myself
Incidentally I stopped doing that because I got bored of the writing it. It's a secondary thing to do in my opinion. But but I do hear that that this practice and I will assist sometimes you are here would think all the new criticism. I'm tired of this. I've been told of this practice of analysis has somehow inflicted the poets themselves so that they write things that the professors and the critics will have a good time with picking out symbols and whatever symbols are. When you mention the professors do you think that they have much effect on the poets that are developing today. I know I think they have. The effect on students I find students in colleges and schools utterly unable to read a thing simply does it is they in their browser to worry about what this means. This is something more than what it seemed to mean.
Now that is very distressing to me. It shouldn't mean any more than what it seems to me that's the whole point. Do you think that this is a reflection of our times that people are troubled and they're looking for all sorts of ways. So I suppose I suppose so we are almost cursed through the habit of self-analysis. You know every day somebody tells us what kind of world we're living in the world as our society is subjected to analysis as if we didn't know what kind of society we're living and maybe we don't hope. But I am. I'm interested to see how many people want to read articles books essays. Setting forth the nature. Of our of our world we seem to be troubled we don't know how to be. Maybe it's escaping from some I would be getting complicated beyond our comprehension. I think that's part of it. I don't think it is actually. I personally don't think it is but the we've got in the habit of many of
us have the habit of thinking so what do you think that art can help us to understand the world better. Poetry prose. Well that's his purpose driven his own purpose. Not understand the whole world. Each time you need to go around you that short but honest on any piece of it that the poem deals with. It's always much simpler I think than people seem to think. You mean we should just let ourselves respond to what's being said without trying to develop complicated analyses of every phrase every image. Yeah just as when we want to speak we should speak as simply as we can do about whatever it is that interests us and not try to be complicated ourselves in our choice of language again. People often think there's a virtue in using more complex language more Nightline when there's no virtue in complexity and then whatever. And I know that that this world of ours is a world full of people who who like to think of the
way of the contemporary world remount only complex but confused. I know how many young people so I am confused as if they were rather proud of it as a forward distinction to be confused I don't think it's a thing we can do. I think you would like to reconvene I suppose that's the danger of thinking that it's a desirable thing. Thank you Dr. Van Doren. It's been stimulating to talk to you about poetry and its relation to the world we live in. You have heard Dr. Mark Van Doren in visit with the poet part one. The visiting scholar series is produced for the Cleveland Board of Education station WABE them by Charles Segal engineering done a speaking your interview or was Cecilia EVANS This is leaf anchor speaking this is the Board of Education station WABE O.E. in Cleveland. This program was distributed by a national educational radio. This is the National Education already or network.
Visiting scholars
Mark Van Doren, part one
Producing Organization
Cleveland Public Schools
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program, the first of two parts, features an interview with Mark Van Doren, poet, formerly of Columbia University, and Pulitzer Prize winner for his "Collected Poems" in 1939.
Series Description
This series features interviews with outstanding scholars from various fields.
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Interviewee: Van Doren, Mark, 1894-1972
Interviewer: Evans, Cecilia
Producing Organization: Cleveland Public Schools
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-2-4 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:14:29
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Chicago: “Visiting scholars; Mark Van Doren, part one,” 1967-12-21, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 20, 2024,
MLA: “Visiting scholars; Mark Van Doren, part one.” 1967-12-21. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 20, 2024. <>.
APA: Visiting scholars; Mark Van Doren, part one. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from