Tuesday, August 16, 2011

See More Beauty: Poetry According to Salinger's Glass Family

J.D. Salinger's scorn for academics is well-known. Take, for instance, the dedication that greets the reader of Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour – An Introduction: “If there is an amateur reader still left in the world – or anybody who just reads and runs – I ask him or her, with untellable affection and gratitude, to split the dedication of this book four ways with my wife and children.” Here at Foothill, we're grad students, and when we go through batches of submissions we do anything but read and run. We read and reread poems, discuss, read again, sit with poems and meditate on them, let our thoughts marinate, and discuss them anew. In spite of this, I like to think that the way we read poems wouldn't generate Salinger's contempt. In fact, I think what we're looking for in our poems is pretty close to what Salinger was looking for.

Salinger made his thoughts on poetry known through the Glasses, the fictional family of child prodigies who peopled his last published works. Seymour, the eldest Glass child, was a poet who left behind 184 unpublished poems that serve as the standard by which his younger siblings come to judge poetry and art in general. We don't really get to read Seymour's poems, but Buddy, Seymour's younger brother and chronicler of the Glass family saga, tries his best to describe them: they “are as unsonorous, as quiet as...a poem should be, but there are intermittent short blasts of euphony...which have the effect on me personally of someone – surely no one completely sober – opening my door, blowing three or four or five unquestionably sweet and expert notes on a cornet into the room, then disappearing.” A poem, Buddy tells us, should be both quiet and loud – it's a subtle and precise craftsmanship that produces the most striking effects; it's an unassuming posture through careful articulation that clears the way for exuberant, drunken feeling and expression. And when a poet manages to do this, to borrow the words of Franny the youngest Glass sibling, he leaves “something beautiful after you get off the page.”

While we may not be the amateur readers for whom Salinger reserved “untellable affection and gratitude,” we are a bit like the Glass children he loved so dearly. We appreciate “terribly fascinating, syntaxy droppings” as much as the next, but what we're after is something lasting. We may be discerning and demanding, but we are also truly grateful for each time we witness something beautiful through poetry. And, like Buddy, who believes that Seymour's poems “can be read by anyone, anywhere, even aloud in rather progressive orphanages on stormy nights,” we're convinced that poetry and its beauty are meant to be shared.

1 comment:

  1. Great Seymour pun. Now if you could just let me know what Salinger wants me to think about religion, that would be great!