Sunday, June 6, 2010

Beautiful Ugly

We all have our individual concepts of ugliness. Usually it is something that is not pleasing to the senses, that causes an immediate reaction against it. We know a stink when we smell it, a cacophony when we hear it. We turn away from that which does not please the eye and spit out what offends the palate.

But in everything we consider ugly or distasteful there can be found touches of beauty if we make the effort to seek them out. Even the most visually unpleasant will have some combination of lines or colors, some underlying balance that can be pleasing if we ignore the rest. If we can follow the pattern of a single sound through masses of discord we may find a kernel of music.

The same goes for writing, for poetry. Poetry is by definition aesthetically pleasing; I can’t imagine anyone setting out deliberately to write an ugly poem. Even though it should be done, I don’t know many beautiful poems about ugly things or subjects. Even so, such materials should be subjects for good poetry.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, they say. So perhaps some poet should stop to envision the beauty in the unattractive.

Where are the poems about scrap metal in a junkyard? Who will wax lyrical about the sights of decomposing garbage? Is there an ode or a sonnet to the nature and beauty of a manure pile?

Beauty is truth, truth beauty, Keats proclaimed. Poetry makes beautiful that which is distorted, wrote Shelley. I’m asking for some appreciation of ugliness, the truths of the unpleasant.

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