Despite the fact that poems “Introduction to Poetry” by Billy Collins and “Poetry” by Marianne Moore are concerned with the same subject matter (poetry), they provide readers with diametrically opposite outlook on what, according to both poets, poetry should be all about. Whereas, Moore insists that the key to poetic finesse is semantic clarity:
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In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand,
the raw material of poetry in
all its rawness and
that which is on the other hand
genuine, you are interested in poetry (Moore, pp. 34-38).
Collins implies that poetry should be appreciated as “thing in itself”, while criticizing readers’ attempts to deconstruct poetry down to its integral components as counter-productive:
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it (Collins, pp. 12-14).
In other words, Moore appears to be the adherent of the concept of poetic realism, while Collins clearly believes that the true purpose of poetry is to please readers aesthetically, rather then to provide them with the insight onto the essence of surrounding reality.
However, the poetic techniques, utilized by both authors to express their idea as to what poetry ought to account for, do not quite correspond to the points that analyzed poetical pieces strive to substantiate – whereas, Moore’s poem is best described as being rather sophistically allegorical, Collins poem’s main characteristic is its structural and expressional simplicity, which means that there is no need in “tying” this particular Collin’s poem “down to the chair”, in order to extract a semantic confession out of it, simply because the utmost message, contained in “Introduction to Poetry”, reads loud and clear. Apparently, despite the fact that in it Collins clearly strived to pose as poetical purist, he failed at providing emotional soundness to such his self-imposed image, because the way in which he composed “Introduction to Poetry”, reveals author’s inability to act as a spokesman for his own ideas.
Thus, the analysis of both poems actually points out at their paradoxical essence – whatever the ironic it might sound, Moore and Collins do not subconsciously relate to their own visions of poetry, which they strived to impose upon readers. For example, even today there is no consensus among critics as to what exactly Moore meant by inserting the following line into her poem: “Imaginary gardens with real toads in them”. However, there can be no doubt as to highly metaphorical subtleties of this line. In his commentary to “Poetry”, Ian Lancashire says: “Toads are not pretty creatures. They are miserable, ugly, untailed, poisonous, usually black, and downtrodden amphibians. We use them to characterize metaphorically almost anything hateful or loathsome” (Lancashire, 2001).
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Apparently, Moore believed that she was a “literalist of imagination” (someone, whose sense of imagination corresponds to reality). This; however, does not change the fact that by reading “Poetry”, people are being presented with the task of solving an intellectual riddle as to what author had on her mind, while referring to seemingly simple but highly symbolical objects. In other words, despite the fact that Moore thought of her poetry as being rather realistically descriptive, the closer analysis of this poetry suggests something entirely opposite.
If being reversed by 360 degrees, the same thesis applies to Collins’ “Introduction to Poetry”. As we have mentioned earlier, in it author comes up with suggestion that poetical pieces should not be rationally analyzed, but only read for the sake of experiencing aesthetic pleasure alone:
I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore (Collins, pp. 9-11).
However, in order for readers to be able to deal with the poem in suggested manner, such poem should represent an objective aesthetic value – that is, it must radiate structural and intellectual wholesomeness. Such wholesomeness can be achieved by poet utilizing rhymic, rhetorical and metaphorical devices. As it appears from reading “Introduction to Poetry”, author had only succeeded at instilling his poem with metaphorical meaning. However, the metaphors that are present in Collins’ poem cannot be referred to as being poetically refined:
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out (Collins, pp. 5-6).
In its turn, this exposes Collins’ existential simple-mindedness, which is hardly the trait of a talented poet. Thus, the poetical properties of “Introduction to Poetry” point out at conceptual fallaciousness of poem’s actual message, as to the fact that poetry should not be scrutinized, in order for readers to be able to define its rationale – it is namely poetry’s ability to inspire readers’ inquisitiveness, which corresponds to its objective value. It goes without saying, of course, that there is no need in scrutinizing “Introduction to Poetry”, simply because it does not emanate poetical enigma. Unfortunately, it also implies poem’s low literary value. Apparently, Collins had proven himself incapable of understanding a simple fact that poetry’s phenomenological significance relates to its ability to stimulate readers’ brain cells – it is absolutely natural for people with Western mentality to strive to “torture a confession out of poetry”, as the ultimate mean of obtaining an aesthetical and intellectual satisfaction from reading it.
Therefore, the conceptual difference between Moore and Collins’ attitudes towards poetry should be discussed within a context of historical realities, associated with both poets’ activities. At the time when Moore was working on “Poetry”, it would never occur to people to refer to the notion of rationality as “evil”, simply because of its close ties with the concept of euro-centrism. This is the reason why in this poem, Moore had made a point in glorifying poetic clarity, despite poem’s strongly defined metaphoric sounding. Collins, on the other hand, strived to promote the idea that people should stay away from trying to interpret the semantic meaning of poetical pieces, which can be explained by poet’s subconscious affiliation with the ideals of political correctness.
- Collins, Billy. “Introduction to Poetry”. 2003. Rice University.
- Moore, Marianne. “Poetry”. 2003. Rice University.
- Lancashire, Ian “Commentary”. 2002. University of Toronto.