Poems and McPoems

"Even one verse alone sometimes makes a perfect poem."
—Ben Jonson

It was Donald Hall who gave us that useful and precise critical term "McPoem" to describe the garden variety contemporary poem in flabby free verse whose dismal ambitions are set to a spavined music. Hall is a savvy and perspicacious critic, and the bloke who undertakes to write about his work has the immediate task of not appearing a pure fool before his subject.

But with the best intentions in the world, the best preparation and the most meticulous care, we all write a certain number of McPoems. I've done so. So have Robert Penn Warren and Howard Nemerov and Richard Wilbur. Donald Hall has published more than a few, as he will sorrowfully admit. In fact, it was he and Robert Bly and Lewis Simpson and Galway Kinnell who helped to develop the McPoem in the 1960's by borrowing surrealism's quaintest mannerisms. This stuff was called Deep Image poetry and constituted a sort of versified Method Acting mumble. Here is a sample from Hall's "The Alligator Bride": "The sky is a gun aimed at me. / I pull the trigger. / The skull of my promises / leans in a black closet, gapes / with its good mouth / for a teat to suck." In about three days college sophomores learned to write this kind of babble by the yard; in another week they learned to think it was poetry.


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