Sunday, July 11, 2010

From Betty to Léonie and Elinor

Sometimes it feels as if Betty is taking over more and more of my life. Last month I blogged the newest Bettywork, "Betty's OS". As soon as that was done, I began serial daily posting of it on usenet, with the idea of attracting readers to TBB. (With some success: I estimate that's responsible for 10-15% of recent visits.) Before that was half finished, I got the idea of a live-linked "Betty's OS" -- one with information on each software linked in. Rather than replace the text-only version -- because I consider the linked text an enhancement of the original, not a rewrite -- I decided I'd have to post that , which will have to be in its own month (probably next month). Considering I began writing "Betty's OS" in May, that will make four months devoted to it.

As if that weren't enough, I've begun yet another Bettywork: working title, "Betty's favourite band." Unlike "Betty's OS," which was mid-size -- only one-tenth the length of the original Betty, "Betty's Hat" -- this new one will be huge, even larger than the original; and I'm allowing an entire year to complete it.

I have to be doing other things; not just non-Betty non-blog things, but also non-Betty blog things. I get a lot of enjoyment, and I hope am learning something, from the techniques involved in writing Betty -- poetry based solely on words, sometimes only on letters and numbers, rather than on ideas or events; lines based on alliteration rathet than sense, rhyme, meter, etc. -- but it's obviously not all there is to poetry. If I can't be writing other poetry right now, at least I can be reading it, and blogging some of it for the other blog readers.

In that light, I recently purchased an interesting anthology: the combined 4th (1930) editions of the Louis Untermeyer-edited Modern American Poetry and Modern British Poetry. There are a lot of familiar poems there, but also much that is new to me. And much of the latter, being public domain here in Canada (a work enters the p.d. here 50 years after its author's death), can be put on TBB.

Judged from the short term, it looks like the canon never changes; however, survey a few years and it's surprising how reputations can grow or shrink in a matter of decades. When Untermeyer notes in the American Foreword how "the new edition, more than previous ones, emphasizes the fifteen or twenty poets who may well be considered outstanding.... The space devoted to Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Edna St.Vincent Millay, Carl Sandburg, Léonie Adams, Elinor Wylie, T.S. Eliot (to name the most obvious) almost doubles that of preceding editions" -- he not only notes that phenomenon but illustrates it.

Of those 8, 3 still fall into the "most obviously outstanding" category: Dickinson, Frost, Eliot. All 3 are still read today and if anything their reputation has only been increasing since 1930. I would not have put Sandburg, Millay, or Robinsonin that category; certainly not at the expense of Pound, Stevens, WCW, or eecummings; I'd consider those to be far more obvious choices for outstanding  American poets of the time .

As for Adams and Wylie, I'd never heard of either. Not only do my 3 Modern anthologies published this century not rank either among the outstanding; none mentions Adams at all, while only one -- Penguin's -- has even one poem by Wylie. Why? Perhaps because they wrote in traditional forms. But, still ...

So those last two look like the obvious two poets to start reading and blogging with. Betty's a great gal and all; but I think it's time for us both (not Betty and me, the reader and me) to see other people. And Léonie and Elinor look like 2 good candidates for that.

Update, July 12: Reading up on Adams today, I read that she lived till 1988. Which means that her poetry is still copyrighted in Canada, so I won't be blogging any of it.

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