Ideally, John Ciardi’s poems should be read as a whole, not as individual works, for their total effect is much greater than the sum of their various parts. Ciardi’s engaging “personality” constitutes an integral informing intelligence, a presence that becomes more complex and developed as the experience of his poetry grows. His work is comparatively accessible—indeed his “first law” for all poetry is that it be easily understood by the general reader.
In an important prefatory essay to the 1949 volume Live Another Day, Ciardi set down thirteen prescriptive principles of his poetic creed. These fundamental rules served him as a guideline for his own poetry and as a standard for the evaluation and judgment of the works of others. An understanding of these critical precepts is important to the analysis of Ciardi’s poetry.
Ciardi’s first and most important rule is that the reader should be able to understand a given poem. Ciardi had little use for certain poets (T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound among them) whom he called “baroque,” inbred mannerists writing to other writers rather than generating their work from the raw material of nature “outward to the lives of men.” Moreover, Ciardi believed that a poem should be affirmative and specific “about the lives of people.” He recalled the origins of the genre by reminding readers that poetry should be read aloud, that its effect is to the ear not the eye. Ciardi...
(The entire section is 2152 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of John Ciardi Critical Essays. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!