The Lyric Has a Bad Rap

It’s true. It is silently insinuated by poets– often both academic and mainstream– that the lyric has long outgrown its usefulness. It is seen as fluffy and ineffectual. Effete and effeminate. It is the opposite of gritty. It has none of the in-your-faceness as slam. It is a poetry that does not incite. It is quiet. Yet– the lyric poem does something certain transgressive poems cannot. It gives the ugliness that humanity so often wears on its face meaning that is as deep as song.  Song bypasses the logical brain and aims right for the gut. Lyric makes the ugly things we do beautiful. For that reason, it has a power that many poets want to ignore. How are we to know our enemy when it wears such a pleasant face? Lyric is beautiful, often dirge-like. It keens. It wails. It embodies all the violence of vibrating strings. Only disturbed things can make such a beautiful music.

What, then, is the danger of the lyric? I can speak about one of the subjects on which I am most familiar. Holocaust survivors have often said that the horrific event itself cannot be called a tragedy. A tragedy has meaning. Tragedy makes the suffering worthwhile by imparting a valuable lesson to that suffering. Those who survived the Holocaust will often say it has nothing to teach us. The fear is this: if we learn from something like the Holocaust, we give it a purpose. We make it possible for something like it to happen again. There was a clear danger in my choosing to write about the holocaust as a lyric poem as I did in Sotto Voce. The lyric gave a poignancy to the event, and thus a possibility of purpose to it as well. Herein lies the danger. The lyric can be as insidious and as useful and grave a tool as any inciteful method of poetry. It does not come out directly and state its intent. It is not meant to shock or impart sudden wisdom to the reader. One must sit with the words, meditate on them. Sing them. The longer we carouse with the enemy, the more susceptible we are to its madness.

I challenge those who would claim that the lyric is a dying form. I believe with all my heart that when one knows how to use this type of verse skillfully, one can unleash its many uses- including its violent properties– on a host of unsuspecting readers and fellow poets. I will never lay down the lyric, no matter how others may scoff and demean it.  Even the shabbiest weapon when used with skill and purpose is deadly. I’d rather learn to wield it like a scimitar.  I’d rather show it who’s boss.


~ by ImaginaryCanary on February 6, 2011.

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