Taije Silverman, Max McKenna, and John Timpane joined Al Filreis to discuss William Butler Yeats’s “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” [text], surely his most famous early poem (written in 1888; published in 1890) and a staple of his poetry readings into the 1930s. Yeats’s father had read Walden aloud to him; Thoreau's pastoral simplification had been alluring for him as a teen, when he fantasized living on an uninhabited island in Lough Gill (near Sligo) — Innisfree. In the poem, the speaker, now longing for an orginary Ireland “while I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey” of the city (presumably London), expresses his desire to build a small cabin on the isle and, like Thoreau, to plant rows of beans and “have some peace there.”
One October 11, 2012, I hosted a debate on Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall.” Well, not quite a debate, but I knew that I, sitting in the middle of four poets, would be on the fence, as it were, with two on a side. The live webcast, hosted by the Kelly Writers House, was associated with the 36,000-person free online course "ModPo," and was viewed synchronously by dozens in the room with us and thousands watching digitally around the world. We made a recording immediately afterward, and have posted it to YouTube here (1 hour, 9 minutes). (And here is a recording of Frost performing the poem. We began our discussion by listening to it; the performance is certainly important to at least the beginning of the debate.)
The differences between the sides, two versus two, didn't really emerge until the end of a fascinating discussion, but they did indeed emerge, Rachel Blau DuPlessis first finally expressing concerns about the attitude of the poem’s speaker, then Bob Perelman joining the view, pointedly. To be sure, all four poets — Bob, Rachel, and John Timpane and Taije Silverman — spent much of the time assembling a full close formal (and meta-poetic) reading of the poem. Its thematics — and politics — derived, as is apt, from the poem's quality as itself an instance in form of the speaker's impulse to have and also to keep apart from the stilled human object of his beautiful but empty annual cultural rite. Later John Timpane thought some more about his own position on the poem’s speaker; I'm pleased that he has given me permission to publish his statement here.