The new Parnassus: Poetry in Review, edited by Herbert Leibowitz and Ben Downing, is finally out. (Supposedly a semiannual, it’s more like a biannual!) The thing is massive. It’s almost 700 pages, and it’s a bargain at $15 (though you might have pay to repair your rotator cuff after attempting to lift it). If you don’t know Parnassus--though if your on the BAP site I bet you do--you must check it out:
a) because it’s been around for 30 years and is one of the only journals I can think of that is devoted almost exclusively to poetry criticism (it has poems, too, but a relative smattering and almost as an afterthought). Criticism is Parnassus's meat and potatoes, and over the years it has featured the best critics around: Helen Vendler, Donald Davie, Guy Davenport, Paul Mariani, John Bayley, Donald Sutherland, Michael Wood, M. L. Rosenthal, Christopher Ricks, Ross Feld, Adrienne Rich, Hugh Kenner, Howard Nemerov, Margaret Atwood, Jonathan Williams, Denis Donoghue, and Seamus Heaney. And that’s only the first five volumes! And, because
b) it probably won’t be around for much longer. In fact, it’s enjoying a Lazarus-like revival at the moment. A year or so ago, the magazine announced it was closing doors. When Willard Speigelman, editor of the excellent Southwest Review, wrote a valedictory piece on Parnassus in The Wall Street Journal an angel (the kind with dosh not wings) sent them some do-re-me to see them through another issue or two. But after that, who knows?
Words that come to mind to describe Parnassus are independent, eclectic, frank, elegant, witty, erudite. Parnassus espouses no school or program. It is unafraid to discriminate. It is generous with space, and exacting in maters of style. It stands in opposition to mealy-mouthed writing. Timidity in literary criticism, Herb Leibowitz writes in the 25th anniversary number, is “failure of nerve.” It “quashes the frank exchange of ideas . . . What should be a bracing intramural conversation turns bland, parochial, prevaricating.”
In that same issue Leibowitz explains that he stubbornly maintained “that poetry criticism is an art, one requiring airtight argument, a passion for style, and even an entertainer’s wit and timing.” Susan Sontag called it “the best magazine in the United States, no, in the World, particularly, she said, in its loving attention to style. . . .”
Here’s some highlights from the latest issue:
Eric Ormsby on La Fontaine;
Mark Polizzotti on Surrealism;
Eric Murphy Selinger on Latino and Latina Poetry
Cathy Park Hong on Asian-American Poetry;
Mark Scroggins on Ronald Johnson;
Daniel Albright on Shakespeare's Songs;
Tom Sleigh on Moosehunting with Robert Duncan;
William Logan on Robert Frost;
Leonard Barkan on Ekphrastic Poems;
Paul West The Shadow Factory (Memoir);
Richard Wilbur's translation Corneille's "The Liar";
Mark Halliday on Kenneth Koch (pictured).
Oh yeah, and a bunch of poems (including a few by me, I should say, though I dare you to find them amid the reams of good stuff here).
Thanks for a great week BAP! I’m out a here. As Avon Barksdale once said on David Simon’s brilliant series “The Wire”: “Take it slow, but take it.” I had a super time!