Monday, October 04, 2004

Victoria Chang rides to the defense of Poetry after I dissed the magazine yesterday, arguing that for her, the "Antagonisms" section simulates a spirited conversation among poets sitting together. That sounds good, but any time I've sat around a table with a bunch of poets doing nothing but talk trash about other poets (as opposed to also speaking up in defense of other poets or even making a case for why they like someone out of fashion—as Robert Creeley strangely seems to be, in Denver at least, according to Gary Norris' complex cri de coeur—I've walked away sick at heart, disgusted with the others and myself. So there's that. Then there's the fact that the table these poets are sitting around feels awfully small: Eavan Boland, W.S DiPiero (both former teachers of mine at Stanford), Stephen Dobyns, William Logan, J.D. McClatchy, Kay Ryan, and Rosannna Warren. If contemporary poetics has a left, right, and center, these folks are all comfortably on the right side of the line. Whereas here's a list of the names that appear on the cover of the June 1959 issue of Poetry that I purchased this weekend: Josephine Miles, Padraic Colum, Celia and Louis Zukofsky, T. Weiss, Henry Birnbaum, Galway Kinnell, Theodore Holmes, John Logan, Elliott Coleman, Diana Butler, Marvin Solomon, William Dickey, Edouard Roditi, Margaret Avison, James Reaney, Barbara Gibbs, Alan Neame, Mona Van Duyn, James Merrill, Delmore Schwartz, Theodore Roethke. Some of these folks have poems in the issue, others are being reviewed, lots I haven't heard of, but my point is: holy moly, what diversity! What an incredible openness Henry Rago had to the various aesthetics being practiced in his time. And how right and fitting it is that a magazine presuming to call itself simply "Poetry" should be so diverse.

Christian Wiman has injected a new energy into the magazine, no question, but it still feels and smells like the inside of a 19th century gentlemen's club, as it has for the past thirty-odd years—only now it invites its contributors to openly deride other poets (and what of worth has William Logan published, or will ever publish, that has a tenth of the music and humanity of Gerard Manley Hopkins' work? That's who he's presumed to attack in this issue of Poetry, with the same relish he's torn into the reputations of his contemporaries). I think Jordan put it best a couple of days ago: attention minus fluff. That's the kind of honesty I want from poetry reviews and poetry talk.

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