On Wednesday 20 March Kate Middleton convened a discussion Why Poetry Matters at the State Library of NSW, with the UTS Centre for New Writing. Along with Bob Adamson, guest of honour was Tony Barnstone, ‘the son of poet and translator Willis Barnstone and visual artist Elli Barnstone, Tony Barnstone was born in Middletown, Connecticut, and raised in Indiana, Vermont, and Spain. He was educated at Wesleyan University; the University of California, Santa Cruz; and the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned a PhD under poets Robert Pinsky and Robert Hass… A poet, translator, editor, and writer of fiction, Barnstone has been influenced by such disparate figures as James Wright, Federico Garcia Lorca, and T.S. Eliot.’ (Poetry Foundation).

Poet and convenor of Live Poets readings Danny Gardner kindly posted me his impressions.

[NOTE: the whole conversation was very long and in a different order.AA]

Hi Adam,
How are you?
Now I’ve got some time let me unload some of the notes (the ones that still make sense after deciphering hieroglyphic scrawl) from: Why Poetry Matters as discussed.

Bob Adamson made the point from Freud: ‘Art comes out of the failure of the self.’
And Plato: ‘Poetry is the way you measure time’.

Bob: ‘I always ask my students to write a poem like Yeats, Shelley, Lawrence (whoever was being studied at that time) etc – ‘you won’t be able to do it but you’ll discover stuff on the way.’

Anthony [Barnstone] made the comment: “Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street band could not be the best players from the New Jersey area because he (they) couldn’t copy people like the other bands in Jersey were doing. They couldn’t help trying to be original.’

Bob: ‘The Americans (Robert Creeley, Black Mountain poets etc) gave me permission to write about my own life’ (Creeley physically throwing aside Bob’s attempts to write like the Americans!).

Anthony: ‘Robert Frost didn’t ‘read’ his poetry out he said it in the Vermont-ese vernacular/accent that determined its written form. Actors ‘destroy’ the work of Frost because they can’t help but try to ham it up and over-dramatise.’

Bob quoted Wallace Stevens on poetry: ‘poetry should escape the intelligence ALMOST successfully!’

Anthony: ‘Trakl (Jewish writer incarcerated by the Nazis in a death camp) was able to generate burning clarity out of suffering in his own life.’
‘Poetry needs to reclaim . . . become again the epic genre of writing (expression). In that sense what can make poetry matter is it reclaiming the narrative..’
Bob: ‘It’s got to hold people in a way they can’t get anywhere else or in other art forms.’
Anthony: “Joining poetry with music you have to find the emotions of the hard lines that will become the chorus – that you keep coming back to.’ (He was referring here to the fact people find ‘poetry’ more palatable generally through music – music lyrics.)

In a Q and A section later Anthony answered the question: ‘Did you concentrate on the second world war (as the part of your treatise on giving people the widest range of views about humans in conflict) because it’s one of the few war theatres the Americans were in where they were seen as the good guys?’

Anthony: ‘It’s obvious they were not seen by others as the good guys in the second world war.’ And he instanced a conversation he had at a dinner with the pilot of the plane the Enola Gay that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. He asked the pilot, “How did you get over feeling you’d killed so many people – that you would have to be responsible for that?” The pilot replied: “everyone was to blame for the atomic bomb being dropped – even the most innocent Japanese baby that looked up for the first time into that blinding light.”
Can we, as observers, honestly take any credit from blaming that man for dropping the bomb? We know he had no choice then to answer that question like he did. Do we believe he can re humanise himself after that monstrous act? That ANYone can re-humanise himself after the most despicable transgressions of our civil code? To me poetry means that we can believe any criminal is capable of rehumanising himself in our eyes.’

Danny: That was the thing I could not agree with Anthony about. I believe it doesn’t come into the purview of the most callous, hardened criminal but I do believe he carries the seeds of eternal purgatory inside him which he will never escape unless he publically and genuinely seeks forgiveness whether before god, the nightly news, his victims’ descendants or his own conscience. I know about that internal purgatory because it happened to me after I’d committed certain unsocial acts a decade or so ago – and am only now fighting free of that and keeping straight.

Hope this helps Adam and see you later!

Danny G