Monday, September 25, 2006

The most intimate of the arts

John Banville reviewed three books of poetry by Robin Robertson this summer for the New York Review of Books. (Unfortunately, this review is available online only to the journal's subscribers.) Its opening paragraph impressed me:
W.H. Auden claimed, and surely he is right, that the poem is the only form of art one must either take or leave. One can look at a painting and wonder what to have for dinner, one can listen to a symphony and think about sex, and still have an artistic experience, albeit distractedly; but a poem read with an absent mind remains lifeless on the page, lacking the necessary inspiration of our full attention. Poetry therefore is the most intimate of the arts, and at its strongest can produce an almost physical reaction in the reader, a shying-away, as from the too close proximity of another's flesh. Rilke observes that 'beauty is nothing/ but the beginning of terror we can just about bear,' and something of the same might be said of the best poetry.
--Marshal Zeringue