I’d like to like Graves’s poems; his surefooted defiance of Modernist convention is the kind of sacred cow-tipping that often shows better over time. Graves was badly off in his gamble, though. Certain that verse libre was a fad, and the Pound/Stein school would go the way of cocktails and the Charleston, he willfully closed himself off from the main creative seam of 20th-century poetics, building his own house on flat metrical sand. Despite its intellectual intensities, Graves’s poems straitjacket themselves in a formal wrapper that it’s hard for most modern readers to see their way around, sounding more like brainy oddities with a Victorian comic-verse twist than a daring riposte to Modernist poetics. Maybe he only wanted the few to find him, or maybe his sensibility was best pitched backwards, towards the Romans and Greeks and the Welsh Fusiliers that paid the bills on Majorca. Still, if Graves was “wrong” about modern poetry, he was wrong in a cranky, mad-uncle sort of way completely his own, as much a part of the century as, well, cocktails or the Charleston.
20 hours ago