I feel simultaneously well-read, and lacking in that department, and it's because I spend so much of my time reading literary journals and so little time reading poetry books. I rarely get to read a full collection. But I have been reading "Don't Let me Be Lonely" by Claudia Rankine and so far (about halfway through) it's one of the best books of poetry I've ever read. I don't even know why I bought it. There was a time where I would buy books on a whim, and this book was born of that.
I'll maybe give it a book review when I'm done, but for now, I want to talk about a blog entry from one of my favorite online purveyors of poetry, Linebreak. In this blog, Carolyn Guinzio notes that "“Memorable” is a quality that may have nothing to do with greatness." And she's right. I have read classics that while impressive upon reading them, I have since wholly forgotten, and banal songs from commercials that will sleep with me in my grave. So what makes a poem memorable? Or better, what makes a poem both great, and memorable (since a sufficiently terrible poem might become memorable in itself)?
It's the sort of question I imagine does more harm to poetry than good, if it is sought after. It's the sort of thing which I imagine musicians are thinking about when they write their next bubblegum hit. But I recognize that this may be some sort of inherent bias I have: that greatness can't be manufactured, it must be organic. And perhaps that isn't true.
It is a frightening thing to imagine that one might go his entire life writing only one or the other type of poem, the great poem which doesn't stick with us, or the memorable so-so poem.
Or can a poem truly be great if it can be forgotten?