In today's New York Times, a place I know we all rush for the latest and "greatest" in poetry criticism, David Orr asks, in "The Great(ness) Game, basically, what will happen when THE generation of GREAT poets is gone.
By this logic nuclear waste might be mankind’s greatest contribution to history. Because something lasts does not make it great. And, no, poetry doesn’t need a mountain in Nevada.. There are negative qualities to durability. Say, staying far beyond ones welcome. Do I care that a poem I read today may not be read in one hundred years? No (unless by some miracle I’m still around to read and share it). Do I care that it speaks to me and might speak to many people now. Yes. Do I admire it for its care and craft and wisdom, of course.
These aren’t all good questions. In fact, given my own inclinations, none of them are good questions, which considering my status as a literary critic and theorist might say something. One quibble I have is the notion that boredom is always bad in literature. Sometimes, here I especially think of Ashbery’s Flow Chart, but really of any reading whatever, boredom is the key to the kingdom. You drift away and then are snapped back—and there’s nothing more (at least for me) exceptional that this feeling of being lulled and then violently woken by art. I also think of Beckett, Joyce, Blake, and many others.
Perhaps Orr hasn’t read much recent Ashbery, but a line from “Phantoum,” in his A Worldly Country, strikes me as both cogent and hilarious here: