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« The Course of a Particular [by Wallace Stevens] | Main | Revisiting "D.A.R.Y.L." [by Joe Lehman] »

February 04, 2021

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Great interview, Aspen! And I looking forward to your book, Amy! Love the cover.

Are there any reliable living U.S. critics of poetry? I suppose Helen Vendler, Stephanie Burt, Marjorie Perloff, David Orr, Dana Gioia, Adam Kirsch, and, by dint of his current association with THE NEW YORKER, Dan Chiasson would spring to the minds or lips of some. And then there is, I suppose, the National Book Critics Circle Awards’ Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing recipients still active in poetry criticism.

But if I may rephrase the question to "Were there any reliable U.S. critics of poetry?" my lead answer—after St. Louis-born T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)—would be Nashville-born Randall Jarrell (1914-1965). He's widely acknowledged as the most influential U.S. poetry critic of and for his generation. If you don't know why, read Jarrell's POETRY AND THE AGE, his highly influential book of criticism published in 1953. In it he cracked open the carapace of U.S. verse emergent or dominant during his time with insight, intelligence, erudition, and wit that, in combination, were often as engaging as the verse he singled out for celebration or, at least, cerebration.

In POETRY AND THE AGE Jarrell states this: “A good poet is someone who manages, in a lifetime of standing out in thunderstorms, to be struck by lightning five or six times; a dozen or two dozen times and he is great.” I cannot think of a better benchmark for what constitutes U.S. poetic canonicity. Better yet, think of the poems by living U.S. poets that you love. Can you single out 24 keepers by any one of them? May lightning strike them all as often as possible!


"And then there is, I suppose, the National Book Critics Circle Awards’ Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing recipients still active in poetry criticism."

I meant "And then there ARE." Mea culpa.

More culpable: not one joker in this list is "reliable" in any sense except if you use reliable as an adverb modifying "fake." << Helen Vendler, Stephanie Burt, Marjorie Perloff, David Orr, Dana Gioia, Adam Kirsch, and, by dint of his current association with THE NEW YORKER, Dan Chiasson. >>

Warren: What current U.S. poetry critics would you rate as "reliable"? Just curious.

I wasn't necessarily endorsing any of the ones I cited. That's why I wrote: "would spring to the minds or lips of SOME (caps for emphasis here)."

Also, I singled out for praise two U.S.-born poetry critics who have been dead for 56 years: Eliot and Jarrell. That's a fairly strong tip that I'm not often bowled over by the current crop we have, including the ones I mentioned.

Finally, I'd be the first to concede that there's no true equivalent among current U.S. poetry critics to, say, Irish-born Fintan O'Toole in his "reliably" perspicacious criticism and commentary about U.S. politics from his perches in Dublin and Princeton. "Outsiders" of his caliber tend to have "inside" down pat.

I agree on the deceased: Eliot, Jarrell, R. P. Blackmur. Auden is great not as an evaluative critic but as the intellectual equivalent of a roving reporter.

Warren, you're too funny! Refreshing. But assuredly you would agree that Dana Gioia has integrity. James Longenbach and David Orr are also worth reading, I find.

More than ready for "Index of Women."

(Shelve between Hesiod's "Catalogue of Women" and Brian Eno's "Index of Metal." (!)

A wonderful interview with a terrific poet. Thank you for all the comments, including the spirited if totally tangential back-and-forth on reliably unreliable critics. "Index for Women" will be well worth waiting for.

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