The Language of Poets (by Betsy Brown)

Note: The following blog entry comes to us from our colleague and friend, Betsy K. Brown, who teaches and chairs the humanities program at Cicero Preparatory Academy in Scottsdale, Arizona. A graduate of Seattle Pacific University’s MFA in Creative Writing program, with a focus on creative nonfiction, Betsy loves to share the goodness of words and stories with young people amid the beauty of the American Southwest. 

I recently completed an enthusiastic and all-too-quick first read of Jane Greer’s newest poetry collection, Love Like a Conflagration. In the 1980s Greer was an early pioneer of the New Formalist movement, which champions poetry that returns to the traditions of rhyme and meter. Her latest collection draws inspiration from a number of works in the liberal arts canon, including the Bible (“Micha-el”), Hamlet (“Ophelia”), and the art of Auguste Rodin (“Rodin’s Gates of Hell”). 

As the title itself demonstrates, Love Like a Conflagration is brimming with tropes that expose the human condition in evocative and often sobering ways. For instance, “After the Fall” begins: “The sound was everything I’d read it was,/and more: soft and precise,/a single apple dropped on sodden ground./Now time is measured from that sound.” 

While reading these poems, I was reminded of inkling Owen Barfield’s words on metaphor: “Men do not invent those mysterious relations between separate external objects, and between objects and feelings or ideas, which it is the functions of poetry to reveal. These relations exist independently, not indeed of Thought, but of any individual thinker…it is the language of poets, in so far as they create true metaphors, which must restore this unity conceptually, after it has been lost from perception” (Poetic Diction, 85-87). 

Reading poetry as a found thing as opposed to merely an invented thing can be terrifying if what you’re finding is another layer of human depravity. This is certainly the experience I had while reading Greer’s collection. We are thus invited to approach her work, like all great work, with a courageous willingness, since it reveals truth to us that perhaps we do not like to acknowledge.  

Greer’s poems both invigorated me and humbled me. Like the Bosch painting on the cover of her book, she does not shy away from difficult revelations both cosmic and intimate in nature. Read her work in a moment when you are prepared to rediscover brutal and beautiful truths. 

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