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« We Went To the Falls [by Jennifer Michael Hecht] | Main | Translating Elvis by Brian Henry »

July 29, 2010


Excellent blog! These posts on contemporary poetry and criticism are timely and informative. Thank you for sharing..

Thank you for this serious and smart post.

This is a good, clear piece that helps me think about what I look at in the poems I meet, may even help me slow down a little when I'm sometimes inclined to devour for content.

One small issue is the dancing about architecture quote; possibly not Elvis Costello?


I wonder: might not the poet's choice to publish be considered the primary act of criticism (though it, of course, comes at the end of so many vital critical acts in the composition of the poem), and then might not the editor's or publisher's choice to publish the poem be the secondary act, and then might not what you call the "primary" act of criticism actually be the tertiary, etc?

I ask the above to suggest that criticism is not so reactive and distant from poetry production as you seem to suggest, but rather is one part of a larger system of ongoing critical feedback. (Indeed, it seems that you've discovered there are many ways to engage in poetry criticism: not only through reviews but also through writing poetry, translation, being more selective about what you choose to review, and, of course, though you say less about this, editing.)

And, so, here is my defense of quaternary (?...and beyond!) criticism: critics are *always* criticizing critics, be they poets or editors or publishers. This is not some strange and removed activity but one that is bound up in how what seems the core of poetic production (writing and publishing) actually work.

After all, it certainly cannot be the case that when a book is published it is beyond critique? And if there's an editor (or even another critic/reviewer) out there who one sees as making a mistake over and over again, it is good and right to point this out, yes? That's not redundant or removed--that's important work, significant service. Plenty of great reviews certainly have been of more service to the life of poetry than a host of mediocre poems, yes? And, sometimes, criticism feeds pedagogy, which in turn feeds poetry, right? It's a big creative and critical system, and it’s worth thinking about from a number of vantage points.

In closing: a terrific discussion of the state of contemporary poetry reviewing can be found at

Thanks for your provocative post--
Mike Theune

I wrote on blog recently...
"A great stylist must have a substantive substrate. It’s not thin ice upon which she carves those elaborate figures, executes those flawless axels."
Style without some essential content is instantly forgetable. Stevens is perhaps the great example. He had style in spades. But had he not the deep well of the philosophical to draw from, would he be read today?

What fascinates me most is that these sensations can be interpreted as either poetry or shoes.

What about Blackmur, arguably the best of the close readers among the "new critics"?To which you can reasonably reply that the problem is with the word "new." The new anything is the old everything. The old left, the new left.
I appreciate constructive criticism and believe there is a serious crisis of faith among bad-mannered critics who are really academic and strictly small time.

I cannot but see such as work-around solutions. I can hear some protest now, but process kills cracks and ties up loose ends, process adds knowledge, process makes it possible to better the processes.
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"Lively and affectionate" Publishers Weekly


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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