Saturday, January 26, 2013

Poetic Likeness: Modern American Poets

Where: National Portrait Gallery

When: through April 28, 2013

You get both poetry and portraits at this show, featuring poets from Walt Whitman to the 1970s.  Some people get multiple pictures (presumably those the curators thought were more important); most get one.  All are from the Gallery's permanent collection.  Each portrait also features a sample of the poet's work and a short biography.  It functions as a type of introduction to modern poetry, something of which I stand in sore need.  Although I studied poetry in high school, I confess I've not kept up since then, so I'm a bit behind!

In the 20th century, American poetry came into its own, no longer a derivative of English poetry.  The foundation comes from works by Walt Whitman (think of "Leaves of Grass," and "Song of Myself," which I do remember from 10th grade) and Ezra Pound.  In fact, I even remembered the quote they use from "Song of Myself," which I had to memorize for English class.

Ezra Pound, one of those who gets a larger display, is commemorated with a bronze bust.  It's interesting in that it has lots of slits in it - as if to symbolize the breaks in his mental state; quite effective, I thought.  The commentary on Gertrude Stein, "her writing is a thing that needs verbs," made me smile.  I went to see a big exhibit on her life (was it here at the Portrait Gallery? - I think so) a year or so ago.  There was also a photograph of Allen Ginsberg that I remember seeing in the National Gallery of Art show a while back.  There's something very satisfying in seeing things again and recognizing them; it makes me feel as if I'm part of the "in crowd."  The idea of there being an "in crowd" who go to museum exhibits is a bit ridiculous, I do realize.

Verdict: If you like modern poetry, don't miss this retrospective on a century's worth of practitioners.  For me, I think I would have appreciated it more if I were better versed <groan> in the genre.

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