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Learning to Love Lorca…or Any Poet

December 22, 2021

Wherever you step into the poetry tradition, you soon hear the names of various poets who are important for one reason another, masters of the craft, important historically, the ones who matter to your teachers, the ones who loom large and medium and small. When I started to study, the modernists were mountains in the landscape: Eliot, Pound, Moore, Stevens, and many others. They were the revered ancestors, and I read them with respect and often pleasure–but sometimes with bafflement or irritation or anger and resistance. I just didn’t get why they mattered so much. I tried for years to read Rilke (in translation, since I have no German), but couldn’t until David Young published his version of the Duino Elegies. I was put off by all the Greek and Latin in Pound, but then Hugh Selwyn Mauberly drew me in, and most of all the beautiful Pisan Cantos. It was Whitman’s Civil War poems that finally got me past his ego. Stevens was beautiful, but I was clueless. I carried The Palm at the End of the Mind with me everywhere for years, until it fell apart, before the poems emerged from the fog–or before I did. But nothing ever connected me to Federico Garcia Lorca–I read bits and pieces early, some poems, some plays–but I never quite cared enough to try to make more of a connection. Until recently, when one person in my terrific poetry reading group suggested we read Lorca, and we settled on excerpts from Poet in New York. And as I read, and listened to the poems in Spanish and English, and read a little about the poems (especially an essay by Levine, “Poet in New York in Detroit,” collected in his book The Bread of Time, in which he describes how discovering Lorca’s work “sponsored” his own poetry), I began to connect with the poems, and to read them with pleasure. This process of finally hearing a poet you’ve tuned out or just couldn’t tune in for years is woven through our reading and writing lives. I’d love to hear who some of those poets are for you.

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