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This review is taken from PN Review 247, Volume 45 Number 5, May - June 2019.

Cover of We Begin in Gladness
Jonathan Farmer‘Something We Have in Common’
We Begin in Gladness, Craig Morgan Teicher (Graywolf) $16
I almost stopped reading Craig Morgan Teicher’s We Begin in Gladness before I’d even finished the introduction.

To be fair, it wasn’t anything specific to his book that I objected to. Rather, it was something I’ve been seeing a lot of lately – and seeing with increasing exasperation each time. This example comes from Teicher’s book,1 but you could find something similar in a lot of recent writing on poetry:

implicitly, poems probe the unknown, beginning on firmer ground and speaking until they have expressed the otherwise inexpressible, something sayable only in those words, in that poem. Poets work to express the questions roiling beneath their statements, the statements beneath their questions. Poets rarely trust assertions.

It’s tricky business, defining poetry. Any circle that tries to sum Lucretius, Longfellow, Petrarch, Lorca, Lucile Clifton, Robert Lowell, conceptual poetry, limericks, poems of political protest and the civil service exams of the Tang dynasty will either include a lot of things that obviously aren’t poetry, exclude a lot of things that obviously are, or just cease being a circle altogether. (At least as far back as Aristotle people have been trying to define it as something distinct from its recognisable forms of composition, with consistently odd results.)

There was a time in the history of English poetry (and in the shorter history of the word’s existence in English) when it would have been possible to say what poetry was – language organised sonically into some kind of regular and recognisable pattern. ...

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