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If you want to get the news from poems, you’ve come to the right place. We’re thrilled to announce the launch of Boston Review’s weekly poetry blogging, a fresh stream of thought from vibrant minds, responsive to what’s happening in the world and in the creative interior. Commentary here will range from analysis of the state of the art to reporting on innovative occasions, anecdote to extended appraisal. We’ll have insight and investigation from Nick Admussen, Christina Davis, David Gorin, Amy King, Shane McCrae, Roger Reeves, Paisley Rekdal, Lindsay Kathleen Turner, and others.
Getting the news from poems is a dubious premise, but there’s something over and above the maudlin in William Carlos Williams’s notion that nonetheless entices—“It is difficult to get the news from poems yet men [sic] die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.” Williams’s remark is often conflated with, or accompanied by, Ezra Pound’s proclamation in ABC of Reading: “Literature is news that stays news.” They are both wrong, or at least both guilty of going for the soundbite (which sure worked, as PR strategies go), even as they both encapsulate a measure of truth. Any contrarian can spell out the literal objection: people die from plenty of causes, but a dearth of poetry is seldom among them, and literature expires just as the news does, though it may have a slightly longer half life if it falls on sympathetic ears. The measure of resonant truth lies in the context and the wish: something is going on in poetry, some urgency of apprehension, that offers us something we need, whether it nourishes or incenses, awakens or challenges the intellect, replicates or reconfigures the signs that surround us, and that something isn’t happening, at the moment, anywhere else.
Boston Review’s blog is a space that entertains these opportunities for finding the news in poems and vice versa, a space to entertain both Williams’s notion and its inversion: it is difficult to get poems from the news, but people do it. We’re not willing to go so far as to say that news is poetry that stays poetry. That thought terrifies us. But the dynamic exchange that happens where poetry meets breaking news, where verse forms of all sorts meet the break and flow of ever-changing perspectives and information, is a vital locus of thought indeed.
We are willing to cut Williams some slack. The famous lines appear in the ramble that is “Asphodel, that Greeny Flower,” a capacious and multi-surfaced tribute to his wife of more than 40 years, written after he had suffered several debilitating strokes. Williams’s statement is a lament, and a plea—don’t miss what poetry can reveal about the current state of affairs, inside and outside your room, inside and outside your head. “Asphodel, that Greeny Flower” is a poem about why we should bother, why we should care. Williams seems to say that art, like love, happens to us and we make it happen—it is a visitation and an act of will. News happens. Passion happens. Accidents happen. Watch that space. That pause. Emily Dickinson told us this a long time ago: it’s the difference between the wreck and when the wreck has been. Williams says we should value what we find in that space. It’s the kind of insight that can help a person stay married, and it’s the kind of insight that can help us get the news from poems: “We will it so / and so it is / past all accident.”
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