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September 22, 2008


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Two quick comments on this excellent post. Some years ago at a board meeting of the National Book Critics Circle, an editor maintained that "one couldn't like both Ashbery and Larkin," and I vehemently disagreed then and continue to do so now, though I guess I understand the rationale or trick of mind that impels people to align a literary aesthetic with a political point of view. Among poets who believe that the concept of the "avant-garde" still makes discursive sense, do you think there's a tendency to regard statements of inclusiveness as sort of high-brow equivalents to "can't-we-be-friends" consolations?
My second comment has to do with history as a corrective to a current trend. In the 1960s Robert Lowell and Allen Ginsberg were held to be antithetical, though there was quite a lot, in retrospect, to link them. Didn't Lowell attribute his confessional turn to Ginsberg's influence? Who would have predicted that O'Hara, who really disliked Lowell's poetry, and may have been his true opposite, would now get consistently higher marks than Lowell in the magazine of which Lowell was a co-founder, the New York Review of Books?

Thank you, David! In answer to your question, yes! What you'll find, e.g., on Silliman's blog, is something referred to and scorned as "the third way." This, of course, presumes that there's a first and second way, when what we're talking about is just reading lots of things both on and off the beaten path.

About your second comment, what's interesting in the new complete correspondence between Lowell and Bishop (previewed, if you'll pardon the plug, in a special section of the October issue of Poetry!) is that after some initial mock-horror and resistance, both poets came to respect and admire Ginsberg. Lowell had already corresponded with Williams asking advice about how the heck to write free verse - so what you find is that either-or distinctions (including Lowell's own "raw and cooked" diagnosis of 1960) are pretty flimsy! And famously, it was Ginsberg who stopped Corso's heckling of Lowell at St. Marks-in-the-Bowery in 1977. So the antithesis doesn't hold up after all, thank goodness. O'Hara really did despite Lowell, alas; Mendelson talks about this a bit in his piece, which I'll recommend again. Ah, well. I suppose we're still at a stage in which if O'Hara's stock goes up, Lowell's must come down. But that won't last - so long as readers continue to make their own judgments, and don't defer to those who have ideological claims to defend.

Those who have eyes, let them read!

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

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This Way Out

by T.P.Winch

Ringfinger was nervous
Pinky terrified
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.



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