Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Shapiro on Auden and Baudelaire

Somehow I just stumbled on a short essay Karl Shapiro wrote about a poem by W.H. Auden--actually the essay's about Auden himself. I found the thing on the Kenyon Review website. Shapiro's piece appeared in the 100th volume of the review, apparently. It's classic Shapiro--brash, brusque, opinionated, and against the grain. And quick. Shapiro's prose is always in a hurry, whereas his poems, though not ponderous, take their time.

He exalts Auden, says Auden's reputation is secure whereas T.S. Eliot's is not, and refers to Baudelaire as, I think, a furniture salesman and a travel agent. I feel safe asserting that this is a way of saying that, as a poet, Baudelaire is over-rated. On the other hand, I've met some great furniture salespeople and travel agents, so I don't know that Karl had to denigrate them as he was going after Charlie. Shapiro argues that the one thing a poet should not ask himself or herself (in his or her poetry) is "Who am I?" He suggests, however, that if most poets in the 20th century followed that advice, 90% of the poetry would disappear. I think he may have said the same about politics and poetry once , meaning 180% of the poetry would disappear.

In any event, it was good to be reminded of the iconoclastic Shapiro, his admiration of Auden, and his having been unamused by Eliot, or at least by the effects Eliot had on 20th century poetry. Here is the link:

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