Neil Hester

All poems © Neil Hester unless otherwritten

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Location: North Carolina, United States

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Choice and Brooks; Bad and Good

I was sifting through the poetry section of my 10th grade Texas Literature textbook, and I came along a poem by Gwendolyn Brooks. Now, Gwennie's written some great stuff and some bad stuff, so I thought, "Great, I'm sure they picked out a great poem of Gwen's to show off here." Not so; they proffered "Horses Graze" instead.

~~~

LAEvaside: Okay, so there's not a single copy of this on the internet, it seems. That says something in itself, but don't worry; I'll get the poem up here soon. Oh, and even when I get the poem, this is staying.[/laevaside]

Horses Grazes

Cows graze.
Horses graze.
They
eat
eat
eat.
Their graceful heads
are bowed
bowed
bowed
in majestic oblivion.
They are nobly oblivious
to your follies,
your inflation
the knocks and nettles of administration.
They
eat
eat
eat.
And at the crest of their brute satisfaction,
with wonderful gentleness, in affirmation,
they lift their clean calm eyes and they lie down
and love the world.
They speak with their companions.
They do not wish that they were otherwhere.
Perhaps they know that creature feet may press
only a few earth inches at a time,
that earth is anywhere earth,
that an eye may see,
where it may be,
the Immediate arc, alone, of life, of love.
In Sweden,
China,
Afrika,
in India or Maine
the animals are sane;
they know and know and know
there's ground below
and sky
up high.

~~~~~~~

Question... why? It's not a particularly bad poem, but there are better poems of Gwendolyn Brooks to be had, famous works from her early days (when she actually wrote well). The above poem has good moments, but the quality of the enjambment is spotty and the repetition is heavily overplayed (Plath's 'Daddy', this ain't). If you don't believe me, try reading it like this: Why not this instead?

~~~

Horses Grazes

Cows graze.
Horses graze.
They eat
eat
eat.
Their graceful heads are bowed
in majestic oblivion.
They are nobly oblivious
to your follies, your inflation,
the knocks and nettles of administration.
They eat. And at the crest of their brute satisfaction,
with wonderful gentleness, in affirmation,
they lift their clean calm eyes and they lie down
and love the world.
They do not wish that they were otherwhere.
Perhaps they know that creature feet may press
only a few earth inches at a time,
that earth is anywhere earth;
that an eye may see, where it may be,
the Immediate arc, alone, of life, of love.
In Sweden, China, Afrika;
in India or Maine
the animals are sane;
they know there's ground below
and sky up high.

~~~~~~~

This version flows better because it is rid of some of the useless repetition and carries improved enjambment. I didn't add anything; only removed and rearranged. A couple changes are disputable (i.e. the last two lines as one), but the revised version is an overall improvement. Now, where were we... ah, right: why this poem? To quote myself, "Why not this instead?"

~~~

A Song in the Front Yard

I've stayed in the front yard all my life.
I want a peek at the back
Where it's rough and untended and hungry weed grows.
A girl gets sick of a rose.

I want to go in the back yard now
And maybe down the alley,
To where the charity children play.
I want a good time today.

They do some wonderful things.
They have some wonderful fun.
My mother sneers, but I say it's fine
How they don't have to go in at quarter to nine.
My mother, she tells me that Johnnie Mae
Will grow up to be a bad woman.
That George'll be taken to Jail soon or late
(On account of last winter he sold our back gate).

But I say it's fine Honest, I do
And I'd like to be a bad woman, too,
And wear the brave stocking of night-black lace
And strut down the streets with paint on my face.

By Gwendolyn Brooks

~~~~~~~

See now, this is a great poem. Strong music, a varied rhyme and rhythm scheme, and charming plain-spokenness. Now, try something for me; go to Google, and search, "'Horses Graze' Gwendolyn Brooks". Now, try "'A Song in the Front Yard' Gwendolyn Brooks." The latter has over 4 times as many instances, as well as several online copies. Really, such an experiment should be unnecessary (the latter poem is obviously much better), but there's your numerical evidence.

So, why do academics insist on promoting lesser (even bad) works when there are great things to be shown to the youth? I can understand why for bad poems from people who are *alive* ("Let's help each other out by exposing our terrible poetry to the world and corrupting the youths' literary minds!"), but Gwennie is dead, and has actually written a large deal of *good* poems. Shame on them.

Enough of my ranting: on to the abrupt conclusion. Take care 'til next time,

~LAEvanesce

6 Comments:

Blogger Jessica Schneider said...

You make very good points Neil. Brooks is one of my faves, but she did write a lot of crapola. I actually have that poem on my blog too. Another good one is the one about Satin Legs Smith- I forget the title just yet.

But I remember learning poems like "Mirror" by Sylvia Plath or her "Mushrooms." Those were the 1st 2 poems I read by her. Not that they are bad, but they're not "Daddy". Anne Sexton's I remember being "The Fortress". Eh- there are much better ones of hers. But we did spend a ton of time on Dickinson. I don't know why they pick such mediocre poems, that's something they need to change. They also had poems by some minor poets that no one really reads and only had one hit wonders. Yet they didn't talk at all about Robinson Jeffers. It's just a pity.

8:03 AM  
Blogger LAEvanesce said...

"Who's Robinson Jeffers?" That's the common response you would get, and I probably wouldn't have discovered him for a long while were it not for the Cosmoetica article in which he is featured.

I didn't recognize half the names of poets in the textbook, and there's stuff like this in there, as if they put it in as a joke:

~~~

For Poets

Stay beautiful
but don't stay underground too long
Don't turn into a mole
or a worm
or a root
or a stone

Come on out into the sunlight
Breathe in trees
Knock out mountains
Commune with snakes
& be the very hero of birds

Don't forget to poke your head up
& blink
think
Walk all around
Swim upstream

Don't forget to fly

By Al Young

~~~~~~~

Apparently this guy is current California Laureate. I haven't looked into what else he's written, but... ouch. Yay for jazz poetry? Like you said, it's a pity. I want to see 'Ozymandias' or 'Dulce Et Decorum Est' in these books, but the revolution will have to wait: time for supper.

7:32 PM  
Blogger jdogmoney said...

The "and" sign is called and ampersand.



Sorry, I'm woefully poorly read when it comes to poetry, so I just put down the first thing that came to mind.

I did like your version better, though.

With all due respect,
jdogmoney

2:47 AM  
Blogger LAEvanesce said...

Y'know, I knew of the ampersand, but not of its name; thank you kindly~

9:47 AM  
Blogger Jessica Schneider said...

That poem is typical garbage that a poet laureate would write, which makes his 'title' all the more silly. It doesn't educate the youth on quality writing, if all they are presented with is Al Young and Donald Hall. But in order for any change in the system to occur, the people who appoint these hacks have to die off, since they themselves will never change, and when the young take over, hopefully they will see through it. It's the same with science though, the old have to die off before the new ideas can move in.

2:17 PM  
Blogger ritz said...

I love your blog

11:49 PM  

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