No, but seriously. What constitutes a good ear? Lots of assonance and alliteration? Mellifluity? A ‘restrained’ sense of measure? An original sense of measure? Adherence to traditional measures? A connection to poetry as song? Memorability? Does someone who writes from a melopoeic source always have a better ear than someone who is more logopoeically oriented? Kasey points out quite rightly that there as many kinds of good ears as there are poetic styles to have an ear for. So if dissonance is a value to a particular kind of poetry, so will it be to that sort of poetry’s definition of an ear’s goodness. Having a good ear definitely does not necessarily mean “not being sonically awkward” if that awkwardness is essential to the poetry. And yet, I do somehow sense that there are good-ear and bad-ear poets, but only according to criteria relative to each poet’s method. At the risk of taxonomizing, here’s a list — *not* exhaustive, and *not* in order (except that I do think Coolidge may be #1) but from the top of the head — of living older & younger poets whose sonic qualities strike me (and not, mind you, in all their work) as… I don’t know…”good?” “notable?” “foremost to their practice?”:
Sheila E. Murphy
I’d put myself on here as also being very ear-y but I realize that’s not kosher, and also that *not* to do so will underscore the incomplete nature of this list (don’t get mad if I left you off pleeze). I don’t like name lists, I think I said so already, so perhaps I have no business making one, on this Christmas morning just after Nemo interrupted my thinking by peeing on the comforter. (Why does he do that? He does it very infrequently, and only when we are watching. Is it just because we ran out of wet food? Or is it a UTI? Or is it the deeper issue of his chronic restlessness and boredom? I do try to keep him entertained, but he suffers from a surplus of intelligence.) What I notice about the list above:
1) It’s hard for me to separate “a good ear” from “an interesting lexis”. Which means that having a good ear is not only about sound and measure. It’s about (thanks, Tynyanov–sp?): *lexical coloring* too.
2) I don’t love the writing of all the writers above completely and unconditionally. (My, I sound cranky. I wish Nemo wouldn’t pee.)
3) Is it possible to be a good poet but have a bad ear? Don’t think so. But then, I haven’t defined “bad ear.” Is it like “naughty ear?” (Bruce Andrews? Who I don’t, Bruce, btw, think has a “bad” ear, whatever that may be. Bruce has a fucking great ear, but no dynamics. That’s why I didn’t stick him on the list.)
4) I’ve heard all of the writers above read aloud except for Tan Lin, Peter Seaton, and Lissa Wolsak. Most of them read their work very well indeed.
OK I stop for now. It’s time to give Gary his present!