Hoover’s “Poems We Can Understand”

I don’t think it’s entirely coincidental that one of his own poems that Paul Hoover includes in Postmodern American Poetry is called:

Poems We Can Understand

If a monkey drives a car
down a colonnade facing the sea
and the palm trees to the left are tin
we don’t understand it.

We want poems we can understand.
We want a god to lead us,
renaming the flowers and trees,
color-coding the scene,

doing bird calls for guests.
We want poems we can understand,
no sullen drunks making passes
next to an armadillo, no complex nothingness

amounting to a song,
no running in and out of walls
on the dry tongue of a mouse,
no bludgeoness, no girl, no sea that moves

with all deliberate speed, beside itself
and blue as water, inside itself and still,
no lizards on the table becoming absolute hands.

the fingerprints on mother’s dress,
pain of martyrs, scientists.
Please, no rabbit taking a rabbit
out of a yellow hat, no tattooed back

facing miles of desert, no wind.
We don’t understand it.

After reading 484 pages of Postmodern American Poetry I can appreciate the humor and irony in this poem, gently, or perhaps no-so-gently, poking fun at readers like myself who still search for “meaning” in poetry.

After reading some 60 Postmodern poets, it’s perfectly clear that not all poets want to be “a god to lead us.”

I’ll have to admit, though, that I am guilty of looking for insights into life in the poetry I read and am not ashamed to admit it. I want to read poetry that helps me to understand people and society better, that helps me to better understand my self. I don’t read poetry just for “entertainment;” in fact, if I wanted “entertainment” I doubt I would pick up a book at all.

That’s not to say that I expect any one poet to provide all the answers of life. It might even be enough for that poetry to make me appreciate the complexity of life, to remind me that simplistic views of life are not only wrong but ultimately destructive to the human soul.

Of course, if the poem can occasionally make me laugh at my own naïveté, all the better.

6 thoughts on “Hoover’s “Poems We Can Understand”

  1. Sorry, my system hiccupped on me. Good post. I just finished a couple of Stan Rice books myself. Poetry is insight to the soul. It’s why I love it, read it, write it, and when I’m lucky live it.

  2. Hi Loren, some of the lines of this poem reminds me of the poetry of wallace stevens. Well, fair enough, I can understand that, and I know your feelings on the subject. Like you, I also prefer to find meaning in poetry, that’s why I’m researching WS so assiduously. But the fact is that I am attracted to the pretty, sometimes jocose and sometimes opaque, surfaces of his poetry, and ‘believe’ that there is more meaning within, like the sweet nut inside the hard shell. Sometimes the poems speak for themselves, at other times they require ‘translation’ and I find that process challenging and fun. Certainly reading some of his critics or commentators is a pleasure in itself, whatever WS may have meant! It looks to me like Stevens has influenced a lot of poets, but I find I want them to be up to his standard for internal consistency and they often aren’t. Stevens makes me think of Picasso. I don’t really ‘love’ Picasso, perhaps because I don’t understand modern art. But I know he was a master before he began innovating. I guess Stevens is my Picasso, and as a Pennsylvanian, a ‘picasso’ I can understand. Well, this turned into a kind of rant! when all I intended to write was a short comment. The poem was fun. Thanks, and I like the new look of your weblog.

  3. For me a good poem is a poem that asks me to struggle with something, explore something, rather than ‘telling me’ or being so obscure that it’s not even talking to me. I’m maybe still thinking of your sensuous photo but it needs to flirt with me a little. There’s maybe a limit to our capacity to ‘go seek’ meaning if a poem doesn’t seem bothered about whether we get to know it or not. Hope that makes some kind of sense. Keep posting the poetry Loren!

  4. Makes perfect sense to me, Fiona.

    In fact, my favorite poetry certainly makes demands on me and forces, or leads, me to see the world in a different way.

    To me good art constantly reveals the world in new ways or makes us see our old world in fresh ways, and that’s not always comfortable.

  5. The message in this poem reminds me of that in Billy Collins’s “Poetry 101.” The reader is on the offensive in Collins’s poem, though, and on the defensive here.

    I wonder if there’s some sort of anthology somewhere of poetry on poetry. I’ve always liked Ishmael Reed’s “Beware! Do Not Read this Poem.”

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