January 28th, 2018

Tracinski on Kaur

A friend sent me a link to an article by Robert Tracinski, The Age of Didacticism. It starts off with something that was news to me, that there's a contemporary poet whose first book sold over a million copies. Her name is Rupi Kaur.

I also looked up an article by an NY Times critic, who sort of tiptoes around the topic of her talents, perhaps because she has millions of readers, perhaps because she is a young woman from India and he is an old white man. But I get the impression he doesn't care for her work at all. He pointedly includes this item:

"There's a parody meme on Twitter to break any banal statement or quote into short lower case lines and sign it '- rupi kaur.'"

Tracinski quotes her most famous poem:

if you are not enough for yourself
you will never be enough
for someone else

Tracinski comes right out and says of her works: "They're not really poetry."

I'm of two minds on this. Maybe most of her verse is just banal prose with line breaks. I haven't really read much of any of it. But I have a technical note on the lines above. Bear with me. It's my obsession. But please note that this "most famous" poem almost rhymes and has a lot of aural repetition. Let me move the line breaks just for fun:

if you are not enough
for yourself
you will never be enough
for someone else

I point this out only because it's my belief that when a piece of free verse turns out to be popular, it often, also, turns out to be hiding half rhymes and other "sound effects". Anyway, moving on to one of Trancinski's big thoughts:

"In the early 20th Century, highbrow Modern art was born in a frenzy of negation. The big new advances in poetry were the elimination of meter and rhyme. In music, it was the elimination of melody, harmony, and structure. In the visual arts, it was the elimination of realism and technical skill. In literature, you had novels without plots and exciting experiments like Beatniks writing long essays without using any punctuation. The things the Modernists negated were not unnecessary restrictions or dispensable conventions. They were the language through which works of art spoke to their audience. Without that language, art became incomprehensible and quickly disappeared from the public consciousness."

I like his phrase, "a frenzy of negation".
They swept across the arts in highbrow fury,
With urgency that felt apocalyptic.

Suspicious of all clear communication
While posturing as careful judge and jury
Their standards somehow stayed forever cryptic.

Pet Language Peeve: Referring to the Living as Bodies

This quote comes from an NY Times op-ed, by way of Reason magazine:

"Death is the ultimate vulnerability. It is the moment when all of us must confront exactly what so many women have known all too well: You are a body, only a body, and nothing more."

No. You are not a body. Not if you are reading this. You have a body. You have a mind. You have a personality. Sure, they're connected. But they mean different things. And when we speak of something being "only a body"... we are typically talking about a corpse.

I'm not at all sure why women are supposed to have known that people are only bodies. My impression is the opposite.

I find most women distinctly think
That they are more than flesh alone
And are inclined to tightly link
Bodily love with a spiritual tone.