Not Mean - Poem by gershon hepner
A poem should not mean, but be,
said Archibald MacLeish;
poets, like real men, should see
it’s so, and not eat quiche.
I don’t eat it and therefore am,
I think, as real as real
can be. The fact I don’t eat ham
is hardly a big deal.
According to Ted Hughes, to fish
is better than to write.
Like fisherman all poets wish
to conjure up a bite,
on quiche and ham and fish less keen
than on their sense of duty
to what they all as poets mean
by truth, defined as beauty.
Inspired by a review of Richard Eder’s Letters of Ted Hughes, edited by Christopher Reid (“Yours Sincerely: A Poet on Fish, Bulls and Love, ” NYT, October 3,2008) :
For a poet, such grotesquely outsized commentary on his own work suggests a decided lack of confidence. “A poem should not mean/but be, ” Archibald MacLeish wrote; and Hughes’s interminable glosses on his poems make you wonder whether he thinks they quite exist. Undoubtedly it is his letters to and about Sylvia Plath that will hold the widest interest; they also contain some of his most directly expressive writing. Before getting to them, though, there are some splendid perceptions among the mass of explicating, along with biographical material that is useful, though not especially revealing.Early on, he writes an account of a bullfight worthy of his best young poems. It is all on the bull’s side; not on account of cruelty, but because he saw one of his great mythical beasts being brought down by pygmies. He ends with an extraordinary line: “It’s surprising how much a bull learns during a fight, but by the time it’s learned it, it’s too late. It is full of holes and has no blood left.” On T. S. Eliot at dinner: “His smile is like that of a person recovering from some serious operation.” To Anne Sexton on the danger of favorable reviews: “They separate you from your devil, which hates being observed.” And his comparison of American and English fishermen is at the excruciating heart of his dislike of the United States. (Fishing, he comes to believe, is a superior form of writing poetry; many of the last letters tell of expeditions to Ireland, Alaska and Africa.) For Americans, he writes, the image is of a lavishly accoutered figure grandly facing “some proud king of the deeps.” The image in the English mind “is of some clown sitting in pouring rain fishing in a pool that has a great notice ‘Petrol Dump.’ ”
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