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Success in the arts. A recorded program produced by Chicago undergraduate division of the University of Illinois under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters. Today success in the writing of poetry. Our participants are ruled by any poet critic Professor of Social Sciences University of Chicago Henry rego also a poet critic and editor of Poetry magazine. Elizabeth Wright assistant professor University of Illinois undergraduate division the moderator for the series is Studs Terkel radio and television commentator. Here's Mr. Terkel to open the discussion of success in the writing of poetry. Before we discuss poetry perhaps it might be best if we heard some poetry in action being read by the practitioners of the. Act themselves. Let's start with the rule Danny you are a poet a practicing poet a
working poet. How about an excerpt of your work. All right studs This is one called a criticism of sculpture. I do not like this. Pray is that show is my own. Like something made in the righteous city. The love left to will place where everyone forms his face statue go back to your rock. There is little you mean of my own. Whose arm is a rope whose head is an egg in the frying pan. His look is a lurk. His word seems a self hurting machine. Back back to your Boulder Mach and leave us a leaner seeing. Stone go back to your stand before the remembering one made you this memo. The sun has cost on a crumbling shoulder. You puddles. You bumps of bone. Go back to your rivers and run rock
to be handled by C roll seaward and Sandy hound. Be back in your shade before my. Rough oval stone and my on the rough oval egg of Els lived in the salt be told until you know and you can. What is the case you might say of a contemporary poet who speaks directly and I think I'm sure that this particular point will come up in the discussion as we go along and we have a colleague of Mr. Danny distinguished and Midwestern poet editor Poetry magazine. Henry Henry suppose you put out. Offer something in your own right studs. I'll read a poem called Promise your hand. Promise your hand that Dawn is yet slow and I'm spun through ten years seas and cities. Uncertain trees pursue the road and though I take the next train draw the shade names not in my language beat at the window
cold enemies sit opposite basked in the local headlines their wine and bread not for my asking. They lurch and wind among the dark mountains I am searched at the frontier walled in gray uniforms I am flung to the high and wanted room to count my foreign coins like minutes with a bent concierge watching from the hall wishing me neither good nor harm wishing me nothing. Look the big trees clutch even here not yet so tall but clutching promise your hand I will speed these rails again leap by these lights hide between cars. But be only be the patient and sure miracle of yourself at the last far station implausible point on the wild map suddenly real. And from what great arc marvelously catching my flight containing me here to an excerpt. That has nothing hidden that is direct. Now perhaps we might wander to Elizabeth Wright the teacher Miss Wright as a teacher of budding
poets. What do you seek or what do you tell your students. Terms of being a poet. Well probably that constitutes a very minor part of my job with poetry. If I'm going to teach a student who wants to become a poet I try to leave the content alone and give him a little bit of work in technical details because I think if I'm if I say anything about conduct and my kind mightly to stifle a little bit of the creative work of the student. But it seems to me that my job is much more to make the students see something in poetry and recognise it as an experience that they have to do that they can go through and participate in with the poet rather than teaching him how to be a poet. I think that belongs more to Henry's job as editor of a magazine. Well what about that is right about this because in terms of guiding rather than at the point you
seek to guide to channel rather than to tell him you will not tell anyone what to write music or write this offering that to you when he went about it it's a way for potential writers and potential readers simply readers of poetry. To develop some sort of respect for the medium and to realize that this is a language like the language of music or like the language of sculpture the language of anything else. Otherwise one is tempted to look to poetry for simply the confirmation of a prejudice of some kind. The potential young poet has got to. Develop some respect I think for the hard work for the many years of hard work that it takes to master a medium in a moment it will probably ask you know we will want you as an editor. I look for in the nature of the poems you receive what we will as a practicing poet what your approach to this is. Well I should like to.
Henry rego said in terms of the hard workers I agree with him on that matter. It's partly a matter I think of whether one is working with oneself or with someone who's interested in learning something about the art of remembering that every poem makes one hear the world again and that that's true for both the reader and the writer. So that I think that to get the young person to have an interest in the fact that he's hearing different kinds of things every day in everyday speech is a very important thing it's not the only thing but the Center suggests a very important I'd like to give an example of that almost all poems are composed of the everyday colloquial stresses and pitches that occur in everyday speech An example would be for example when you hear a mother outside the door at the yard calling to her son and saying Johnny Johnny a little bit later you might hear the same voice saying Johnny Johnny and the shift in the place where the accent occurs in a little shift in the pitch there makes all the difference in the
messiest of the ritualized doesn't make up your character's tendency always fighting to ritualize screech. You do it this way I think when you when when a truck driver cuts you off like you don't you don't want to say where are you going as a way of asking a question. Sure I answered but I think you tend to put this in a certain rhythm and you hyphenate certain words you know you know and there's a point here too that you seem to be making a very eloquent One is that the poet must be a listener and a watcher and observer of today as well it could be something inside him but something outside as well that shouldn't be mistaken to mean that he is some kind of a transcriber of only the things that are being said I think he listens not only for what is said but also for uses of language that haven't worked out yet. When I want to be said but hasn't been said yet another way what would you say is different in a poet and a reporter. And here's the big difference and isn't it I think that is what everybody hears and as far as the poet is
concerned he does something to the language itself. Yes maybe more meaningful he brings it to the reader in a much better way than just replying even slightly. And all sorts of deliberate variations of the language are as it approaches to poetry in that way. The teenager for example is not content to saying this but saying the thing directly but has to say the things through some kind of rather special medium The only difficulty with most lying is that it wears out too quickly it's not very good poetry. The last song was good enough to stay you know some of that. Making this record is when he was just brought up a trigger word and there in her day a teenager and this leads I think to a very natural question who is editor of Poetry magazine. Are there any poems you receive from young people today. Is that the writing of poetry going on and those well yes among I wouldn't say among the among the very young it still is exceptional to get
a really promising piece of work from a poet below 20. And when you accept one the other day pardons draggle from a very young person that we were all interested in seeing his picture. Yes you know this story has legs that happens a few times a year. We do that. I forget his name right you know right now but we wait kind of excitedly when this happens the chatting comes around once in a while. Yes or yes it does happen. In general I think the poll is getting started and beginning to do work but that gives you pause you know we get lots of work that we just look at and send back its poetry that isn't really poetry but the poetry that gives us pause is written normally by poets at the young poets in their early 20s and then are terribly good by their middle twenties and then some of them achieve a style by the time they're
30 or just below 30. That's just about the time it takes is 27 28. Honest a man begins to a lifestyle I mean a that a man has a kind of thing in which he sounds like himself all the time no matter what he's saying. If he's found his own he's found his own language within the language. You say just about the time it takes. Do you want to write you want to expand there. How long I mean that this is a. A food question How long does it take to become a poet. Is there an answer to that. I mean it it sounds like a ridiculous question here what about the development doesn't vary I mean I think it's very interesting to study a poet from the very beginning chronologically what he did in the beginning and go right ahead and find out what he did later. But I don't know whether you could put a time you're right and your sister Jenny. Well I think that the suggestion and Henry's remarks that some good poetry gets written when people are rather young in their teens is true and it's also true that that these these poems
generally are fairly far and few between and that the person who's going to go on and do something more with the art generally finds then that it's a fairly long road to haul one you might say that one that the thought gets 75 or 80 percent of what he may be looking for and in this first move toward the art but then in this later life he becomes interested in and expanding that frontier to say something like the 90 percent percentage isn't the right term at all but I'm just talking about an area he's interested in the margins by which he's grown beyond his original stake in the affair. That's got to be pretty federalizing too because the horizon keeps Yes recede. It's interesting you're right. You keep wanting to say you things you just about got to see. Being able to say what what you perhaps I don't want to show what you shouldn't say which is just about what it says in the quartets in case there are some elder citizens listening who might in the end who had to write poetry.
We know in the theme of the novel for example Sherwood Anderson started writing somewhere in the 40s. Now is this. Has there been cases has there been a case of a poet who came along in the use of raise a cloud of his life started writing has been such a case. But they all started though the visibly starters. I don't know when and for a fact frost began writing but I know that he wasn't published till it was. He didn't have a book until he was about 40. That's right that's right. That was Stevens how it was you know his first was when he was 43 years old he was. He wrote a little at Harvard wrote wrote quite different stuff published in The Advocate quite different stuff from what he finally made his reputation on for a while he did write while he was in law school and just getting his practice started. Or just getting underway with his job at the Hartford life insurance company. He's so interesting to my students because you know they can see here a person who is in the business world completely materialistic and yet. Is there really any of what I want him I think came out when he was 43. And then there was simply
another edition of it 10 years later with maybe 12 poems added to it. The odd thing is that I know as an old man he became terribly prolific every year every couple of years almost every year there was a good thick book you know as it was that he just couldn't stop. And everything that he wrote came out like him stuff it everywhere he looked he saw Stephen's point do you know you know sometimes you know the whole thing this the whole thing is so full of paradoxes you wonder you wonder how a man gets to be a much peace you see before my keys. Mike you just can't help seeing what he's everywhere he looks you know just the way he looks. This is it. I remember what he what he paid of course it comes out my keys and everything that Stevens wrote came out of Steven's call on this room is just so in poetry generally would you say this is as true of a poet to some extent more and more in some cases and less and others that so. The image of the man as it is there the imprint of a man is there Oh I think I think that's what you get I think that's what you begin with. You say and I think that's what you end with. If you if you really
succeed in this and say you you succeeded in finding yourself and and and being able to converse in this language and this is a question this is the paradox to this is why at the beginning there are even even in your late teens early 20s you begin to show something of what really comes out when you're 40 or 50 or 60. You can see that in the young Thomas at 18 or 19. We publish some very crude beginnings of Thomas in our memorial issue last last year. And you could see the time was full of a lot more of the Old Testament and full of the Welsh landscape violence and all that business. The stuff was proved only just a year later there was this breakthrough. You know when it was all it was all this marvelous stuff that it made his reputation and the famous Dylan Thomas poems were written
perhaps in three years. In his early 20s there was very little. To my mind they were great once it is in his 30s and the years that some people say he was despairing they were really great ones there were very few but they were wonderful ones is this a trend among poets Is this true that there periods as you know chicken one day feathers the next you know the adage there there are fruit for periods and then and then there's And I think that's very just true there is no flow which is hardly a straight flow is it. Now Frank Frost once said to me that the only important thing was to have what he called a little strain of work continuing all the time but that was just kind of almost a thread to keep on going through them as some of those things might be translations might have a rule that little stands or revisions or. Our practice runs not to have this phrase we here really want to take off on it. We often hear three great Minor Poet major poet. Some minor poet and watch a major public want to take to be what I want to take it to be.
Well I would say that both of us are in the first place rather academic terms. People used to use that term. They're referred to with the locations given in literary history to series and of course they're number six in our stable. Dunn was considered a minor poet for a long time throughout the 18th and 19th centuries and he acquired virtually the status of a major part in the 20th century so these things change. Actually it may be that those who have the reputation of greatness such as Milton may be under attack for very long periods. So that actually the status they may have in one generation is much lower in the next I would say that its reputation has suffered so much in the last 50 years that it's quite possible that he will become something like a kind of a major minor poet 50 years from now. Do you feel about that it's possible then you're one who through the centuries through the years
generate that acclaim as a major poet might be not Dr. Carter. Yes there's a real moment I think of the accidental well. How about this. The whole question of greatness which I think is quite separate from the question of success in the arts. I think greatness implies a certain historical context. You might call a poet who you think isn't terribly good great in some sense in because of his position in history because of because of what he sums up the busy road he comes after or perhaps of what follows from him. So what this gives him a certain historical position then I think there is this whole kind of cultural context. There's a poet who has greatness because of what he means to to to his century to my mind. It means a tremendous lot to our century perhaps more than any other living poet does. Because of the number of accidental cultural and human failings because we can't be clairvoyant but isn't it possible is it not that a century hence
Elliot make a poet now might be considered a minor poet then he might mean much less to people then and then many could begin to mean much more. A couple of centuries in which I think some of these people wrote cycles force what I had to say in his time. I'm just again groping Miss Right. Went down had they say it and figures more today so much more to the world today say than it meant in the Victorian period. Yes I'm sorry. Definitely it does it's much more in tune with our times I think so far I think our particular generation of rules and mind and and his contemporaries were they. Guiding people were great. I came later in life myself to Wordsworth learning to read and learning to use in my own craft the sort of thing
that he just. Turned out with his left hand. But it was at the time I went to school. Young poets couldn't read Wordsworth very much I think it means less to poets just Garvey who are older than he meant perhaps to are probably sorry enormous impact of his influence has been absorbed and differentiated and why so that he doesn't tower quite so much for some of the younger people I think this question of of the changes in taste in the well-known poets in your own language tradition is an interesting thing and an important one. It's only in recent years for example that I feel going to perceive how important Chaucer as he tends to be to some extent blocked from our view partly by critical tendencies in the present time and partly by the fact that he is regarded mostly as a kind of decorative museum piece of a sort with a sort of a flavor some overtones of his age and so on. It's only in the last 10 years that I've begun to appreciate what he does and to believe that. His
influence actually can continue to be an important one. You don't even have to wait a whole generation or a century to change the influence or the reputation of a poet either doing I'm enough of an accidental thing like the Great Depression changed the reputation of a lot of political social criticism as you might have for the whole chaos that was vanished in a war provided a wonderful sort of backdrop for all and his people through the early on. People like Alan awhile fleetly lost any claim to be great and became what you call a minor yes and the international reputation of which was deserving in the first instance anyway was magnified considerably by that backdrop in Spanish culture during the turbulence of the 30s. So a human event an event doesn't care what writing that one lives as they call it come to the fore Lou is after some of the poets just starting. Just publishing the first book let's say within the last year or so is just beginning to appear in the good magazines. Complained at the hope that the complexity of international politics at the moment you see which makes it impossible for a man to take a really
dramatic stand on anything in the complexity of domestic politics. See which makes poets as Auden put it. Leaders of the loyal opposition. You know what. At our strongest this complexity makes it very hard for poets to take the kind of stance that oughtn't took in the orators and it took in the wasteland you see so I mean there is let me talk in those wonderful Bohemian poems of the 20s particularly. And so later their master is Empson you see them they very much were very carefully wrought over a lot. Some of us would have thought overwrought things. Whom else do they like. Well some of them write like Swinburne with that sort of a wonderfully fluid stuff you know. But it's such a far cry from the early William Carlos Williams. I do use the phrases form and content but this would be a case that in which the word ass confuses day somehow content looking of forms and take precedence
at the idea I mean it's trying to say something without saying too much. You know that right now among the very young there is a lot of experimentation ability just interest. There's a great deal of interest has been increasing interest in the in the tighter forms for probably the last 25 years. After all one must remember that that in a sense the informal and reversed movements of more than a generation ago freed people to some degree and created a new context than it was a question of finding in formality against the background of over formality as an Edwardian and turn of the century verse and poetry throughout a background is more informal and it's possible to dramatize greater formality against a rule do you think that this could be analogous to in a larger social and cultural scale analogous to the thing you were talking about earlier in a man's individual career. This thing of keeping going with her. Correct as you put it you see. Yes read of things. Yeah. Until or until you get it. This sort of thing that Hopkins called a major shock. That's right which produces the big three.
Partly one has to watch for the occasion for that one may have a little bit of what you might call a poetic money in the bank and the sense of having it in the second or third drawer and this might be something one has worked on 5 10 15 years ago and one waits in hopes that perhaps some context which we will hear which makes it meaningful again at this point the fact that it's become newly meaningful provides the additional energy with which you can complete the job you began and if you have enough of those lock spots or you are a little bit ahead of where you would have been otherwise. So you might say at the moment we may be living through the red period at this moment when my right hand of the money in the bank we trust will be forthcoming with the big event whatever that might be. I took up this very personal question that rule was talking about earlier this up with no less a man than Mr. reget himself during the war because I was a little worried then as a young man I wasn't writing. I just found it impossible to write. During the war I would think now looking back that just a lot of things were happening to
me that was that he was a certain depression that I shared with the whole world but I think a lot of things were happening that came out in some writing that I did later. But I took this up with agate and he said in a very humble and avuncular way of his. Well you know I used to worry about that too in-between poems I wondered whether I was a poet. I always felt that any poem any point I wrote was my last poem. And then later on I learned not to worry about I learned that a man was a lot of other things besides that he could you know it could be a publisher or he was a he was a citizen or he had responsibilities to his friends or give a party or he went to a party. And presumably some life was kept going you know some spark. But eventually there would be another poem. There's a question that I'm sure is academic you know the title of the series is success in the arts. Now what about a poet and a material success. Now maybe we're in for a surprise I don't know I can't make a living as a poet.
Anybody for you I would say that most people may be unaware in some heels in the United States today in publishing and in finance and in law and so on particularly in some centers such as New York Chicago and Boston the two have written some poetry has no great financial disadvantage in this. This is my public relation this might turn up as a factor at the cocktail party your character in the discussion. Looking at the stock board or something like that and actually in some cases that I've known it hasn't had a bad influence on employment or occupational opportunities. I wouldn't like anybody listening to think that this meant that a variety of industries in Chicago at any given moment were had thoughts high on their list of desirables they're probably looking for nuclear reactor engineers and so on but it's no great disadvantage and I think that's an aspect of our culture which will be increasing in the future that the that the arts which at first seemed somewhat the unicorn like an underclass to get on the American scene are
much more so than many people realize and this is happening all the time or universities here. Surely I mean to say something quite obvious universities get more play sport in Belgrade. That's true. We're talking about your advertising has taken advantage of it loses a name poetry but they have a lot of bad things happen to poetry. They've made it suspicious in many cases somebody starts to write a conventional or traditional rhyme and rhythm. You begin to think well who are we advertising for the National Association of Manufacturers there are a large company here and I think it's interesting how they've taken over. We've just about run out of time and I can't they were a better way to wind up this last point made by the great panelists fact that poetry is being recognized in many corners and once upon a time it was upon a Scots very happy to notice that a poet is here to stay and society is recognized.
Success in the arts
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University of Illinois
WILL Illinois Public Media
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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This episode discusses what it takes to successfully write poetry. The panel includes Roul Denny, poet and professor of social science, University of Chicago; Henry Rago, editor, Poetry Magazine; Dr. Elizabeth Wright, University of Illinois at Chicago
This series presents panel discussions that focus on various aspects of the arts, including the skills needed to excel. The series is moderated by Studs Terkel and produced by Alfred E. Partridge.
Poetry, Modern--20th century.
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Moderator: Terkel, Studs, 1912-2008
Panelist: Rago, Henry, 1915-1969
Panelist: Wright, Elizabeth
Panelist: Denny, Roul
Producing Organization: University of Illinois
Producing Organization: WILL Illinois Public Media
Speaker: Partridge, Alfred E.
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 57-19-10 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:28:53
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Chicago: “Success in the arts; Poetry,” 1957-01-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed January 16, 2021,
MLA: “Success in the arts; Poetry.” 1957-01-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. January 16, 2021. <>.
APA: Success in the arts; Poetry. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from