Poetry and stupidity are, it seems, secret kissing cousins. Who knew? Lawrence Raab, that's who. Check out his short, punchy essay "Poetry and Stupidity," now online as part of the Essays & Comment monthly feature I edit, and sometimes write, for Plume.
Raab's essay starts like this:
The whole thing is online here.1. OBSCURITYOne of the shortest and most provocative pieces in Paul Valéry’s “A Poet’s Notebook” reads in its entirety:STUPIDITY AND POETRY. There are subtle relations between these two categories. The category of stupidity and that of poetry.I can’t recall when I first read this, but I remember thinking it was true. Also funny. Also like some zen koan designed to knock me on the head. Was it true because it was so obviously untrue? Or because it seemed to provide no way to ascertain its truth? Or perhaps I just believed it because I didn’t want to feel stupid.That Valéry’s equation didn’t appear to make sense was a plus for me. Did it even want to make sense? A little further down the same page, I found:OBSCURITY, A PRODUCT OF TWO FACTORS. If my mind is richer, more rapid, freer, more disciplined than yours, neither you nor I can do anything about it.This was spikier, more aggressively funny. Or maybe not funny at all. And obscurity, unlike ambiguity, somehow seemed connected to stupidity—how dumb you felt when you didn’t get the joke.
Last month's feature, "The Barbarian Invasion of Poetry" (which I wrote) is available here.