the educated imagination

Mirror, mirror

“The poet’s job is not to tell you what happened, but what happens: not what did take place, but the kind of thing that always does take place.”  -Northrop Frye, The Educated Imagination

Frye isn’t just talking about poets here. His subject is all of literature, and he’s especially concerned with the question he asks on the first page: “What good is the study of literature?”

It’s worth asking, as it’s worth asking what the good of any sort of study is, and I won’t pretend to have the answer. I will, however, post other people’s ideas on the subject from time to time, as well as other quotations about reading and writing, many of them from nice old books like this one (Indiana University Press, 1964, although my copy is from 1971). There is something about the glue in the binding of these old paperbacks that makes you feel confident that they, at least, will last when the e-hordes have overrun every available copy of your favorite Scholastic Book Club titles.

Another quotation from Frye, because after all I can open this book as many times as I like and it will never fall apart: “Writers don’t seem to benefit much from the advance of science, although they thrive on superstitions of all kinds. And you certainly wouldn’t go to contemporary poets for guidance or leadership in the twentieth-century world.” Of course, he was thinking of Ezra Pound.

So which poets can we go to for guidance in the twenty-first-century world? I know a lot of teen readers who would go to Ellen Hopkins.