Today, I found PoetryNet while I was looking for information on the poet Andrew Hudgins, whose work I have admired since his first book of poetry, Saints & Strangers.
PoetryNet is a collection of poets’ works and their commentaries on poetry.
Along with many other poets, I found what I was looking for: some of Andrew Hudgins’ poems and Hudgins talking about poetry:
In poems, I look for rhythm first. That’s how poetry first caught my attention. I first loved Eliot and Pound and Dylan Thomas and Housman because the movement of their lines caught me and swept me up. And then Yeats and Lowell. And then I was able to look backwards and see that my immature reading of Shakespeare’s plays and the King James Bible had prepared me for this new way of reading, and I came to a fuller appreciation of their greatness as poetry.
If a poem uses the pulse of unfolding language to sweep me along, I’ll let myself be swept along. I don’t read poems for ideas, though poems need ideas. I don’t read for emotion, though poems need emotion. I confess that a story or anecdote will sometimes pull me through a weak poem, simply because I’m curious to see what’s going to happen–even when I know what’s going to happen. I have the same weakness with potboilers and bad movies, though less than I used to. But that only works once, and once I know what happens in the story I have no reason to return to it unless the rhythm of the lines and sentences, and the sound of the language, especially assonance, pulls me back to it. And that’s when I begin to get interested in the ideas and emotions in it. Of course in real life these things happen so fast as to be indistinguishable and as I move into a poem the various responses begin to talk to reinforce and interrogate another, often at cross purposes. But if I try to break the process of appreciation down, this is what seems to be going on.
I’ve noticed that meter has an advantage over free verse in catching my ear when I’m reading something new. I’ll follow a metrical poem about ten lines in just because verse can disguise itself as poetry for about that long even in the absence of poetry, but free verse is ruthless in exposing when it lacks poetry. Any flabbiness in the line shows up very quickly, the whole thing devolves into chopped prose, and I lose interest. Occasionally that can be overcome by good images or a compelling scene or a good anecdote or an intriguing tone of voice or something else, but . . .