Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Hysterical, but Nice

The goodly Don Share directs us to an entry by the [in]famous blogger Ron Silliman at The Poetry Foundation website, in which the latter discusses changes in poetry culture over the last decade. Besides some typical end-of-days hysteria at the beginning, it is, surprisingly, fairly hopeful. Ron writes, 'What’s apparent is that (a) this joyride isn’t over, and (b) we’re all in this together. When I realize that any chapbook publisher with a Blogspot page and PayPal account can sell directly to readers worldwide, I feel hopeful. I just hope we can find time to read & enjoy this great bounty.'

Sweet and hopeful, but also misleading. Poetry publishing has always been pretty niche. The changes are not so huge as to remove cultural authority altogether and make it so any random DIY-er chapbook publisher will thrive — someone with authority still needs to sign off on most things to convince readers to pick it up (hence, for instance, blurbs). And, as I've written here before, the fact of (almost) universal availability is not a sign of utopian egalitarianism; it's just a now-irrelevant holdover from print. The internet is an amazing tool for making poetry available. Everything is equally available; that in itself is unremarkable.

While the internet may be wonderful for distribution, it is a terrible tool for helping people actually decide what to read; and, given a glut of otherwise indiscernible choices, most people will simply ignore the noise. Authority in culture, that 'gate-keeping' or validating authority, has not been eliminated: it has been dissipated, so much that poetry culture to most people is nothing but noise. Ron Silliman with his avant garde chest beating; Ernie Hilbert revving up tradition; The Poetry Foundation trying to be all poetry things to all Americans; Ken Goldsmith undermining hegemonies that don't exist; each online magazine shilling it's cadre of bar-pals with equal urgency; William Logan tossing darts from the Times and the New Criterion: it is a lot for a reader, alone out there, to wade through.

There was a time when all one needed to do was cite a publication as validation for the opinion of a critic. 'Oh, well, I saw it in the Boston Globe', and that was enough to make an opinion matter. Authority was invested by the entity of the paper, by the money invested in it, and even in disagreeing one took the opinion as a main line. It was the line, the centerpoint. These publications gave readers a list of poets and titles, helped them figure out what to bother with and what to ignore. No more; or at least, minimally now. But a reader's time remains short. So, what then?

The last ten years has seen the dissipation of the old authority in culture. As a result, most readers have clung to the existing standards, the old standbys; worthy newer poets find themselves engaging ever smaller, increasingly individuated audiences that exist only as far as this or that critic or journal has sway. But the muddle is clearing, gradually. Readers are getting savvier about the internet. Critics are beginning to engage more, to quote more, to take advantage of the resources of internet publishing instead of bemoaning the end of print. Authority can be re-constructed, with patience, over time, by helping readers make their own decisions through reasonable argument and justification. There is a new model emerging based on the quality of the writing and the criticism rather than monied interests. (I think of Reginald Shepherd, whose blogging introduced him to a whole audience.) That is what gives me hope for poetry.

[ed: Hello folks from Ron's blog! if you want to read more, see my editorial at The Critical Flame, a Journal of Book Reviews & Criticism]


Curtis Faville said...


I see this in a somewhat different way.

I think Silliman is correct about the old official verse cultural paradigm which held sway throughout the first 7/8's of the 20th Century. New York (and Boston and Philadelphia) publishing houses, Eastern seabord critical quarterly reviewers, and the academic grapevine, tended to mutually reinforce each other as gorgons of taste and acceptability.

But in actuality, the best writing and creative endeavor usually took place outside this network. Attempts would then be made either to incorporate this new achievement within the "canon" or to marginalize it by excluding or condemning it to obscurity.

Go back and see who was considered important and worthy 30, 60, 90 years ago--who was given prizes, who was regarded with suspicion, etc. What you will find by and large is that the "establishment" critics and committees were unfailingly conservative, careful, suspicious, and jealous of their turf.

I tend to regard the palace now as a structure having been seized by the peasants. Look at the current MLA line-up in Philadelphia, and it's composed mostly of the previously excluded. But the works (and authors and artists) who matter, won't be a part of this machine. They're bored by it, as well they should be. This is the real meaning of avant garde. If Silliman or Watten or Logan or Bloom or Vendler likes you, the probability is that your work won't last, that you aren't doing anything different.

The taste-makers almost always get it wrong.

Jacob Russell said...


Just got back from a verBabble of poets--MLA off-site reading at the Rotunda in West Philly, where I was one of the invited readers--as was Silliman. Remarkably disciplined as a whole... managed to get 54 poets to read 1/2 hour before the scheduled stop point.

Gatekeepers have this problem... they have only the past to go on, and poetry exists in a state of reactive adaptation--not entirely unlike an organism. Some mutations work, some don't--but it's always changing (no irony needed). The point to keep in mind here is that nothing is fixed. Poetry is not a ding-an-sich; it exists within a complex set of changing relationships. The 'gate-keeper' Republican mentality with their own invention of the past--is one component... of recent years, a fairly impotent (and understandably anxious one). For all that, no more to be ignored than any other. Political change, evolution and cultural transitions have more than a little in common. No way to even begin to grasp the big picture by digging your trench or erecting your street barricades under any narrow ideological or aesthetic (is there a difference?) banner. Keep an eye and the interactions... relationships... nothing new begins in isolation.

Daniel E. Pritchard said...


Again with the Republican! Such simplistic dichotomies for someone who at least pretends to employ base / superstructure; such a knee-jerk reaction based on nothing but Silliman's crippling didacticism.

In retrospect, of course we can see all sorts of intertextual and societal and economic connections and relationships; that is the very essence of scholarship. In the moment, as critics — not academics, mind you, but those writing for the public — we can act as honest, respectful guides for readers who want to read but don't know what to read; readers who are intelligent enough to agree or disagree on their own and make decisions according to their own damn selves.

Curtis asks us to see "who was considered important and worthy 30, 60, 90 years ago," and, as I do, I find John Ashbery, Robert Lowell, and TS Eliot — hardly the peanut gallery he would claim to have been praised at each interval. Were there poets praised then who were deemed unworthy? Yes. Were others missed? Also, yes. Is it perfect judgment we ask of critics, though, or honest effort and some measure of insight?

As I wrote at Conversational Reading, there are no "gates" to "keep" anymore, so it is idiotic to keep banging on over the damn analogy. Production and distribution are no longer, or only minimal, limiting factors. Capital investment is being partially removed from art production. This is a good thing! Or it could be. The gates are knocked down; focus is now the question: Guides are needed.

Jacob Russell said...

Daniel, (as I'm sure both of you understood, I meant to address that comment to you rather than Curtis...

"Republican"... simplistic as a label, yes. Blog comments don't lend themselves to complicated explications of the intersection of politics and poetry, but with all due respect, I see your critical stance both deeply political and conservative--of the sort one reads on the pages of the New Criterion. Like James Wood, another deeply political critic, you offer a stock of writers whose work might otherwise be ignored (being perhaps no longer possible to marginalize them) as evidence of the catholicity of your judgement--while at the same time, domesticating them, reimagining them as examples of the stuff that would merit inclusion by those now extinct 'gatekeepers'... oh, and the nostolgia that surrounds your announcement of their demise is rather difficult to miss.

Wishing you a South Philly Mummery New Year!

Daniel E. Pritchard said...

JM: Sorry, I'm a Union-organizing, Obama-supporting, Fredric Jameson–reading liberal humanist. Did you even read what I wrote? Or, is this just an exercise in playing the cranky old man?

Jacob Russell said...

I have no idea what you personal politics might be. Not my concern.

from a CrankyOldMan in South Philly!

Daniel E. Pritchard said...

If it isn't your concern, then don't bring it up; but don't use it like a slur and then run away.

Jacob Russell said...

I didn't bring 'it' up... your personal politics. It's your aesthetics--your critical take on the state (apt word) of poetry--as expressed in your post.

That's what I was responding to... in my inept Cranky Old Man way.

Let's not make this personal.

Daniel E. Pritchard said...

You don't have any idea what my aesthetic is — I never mentioned a single poet, poem, or line. I'm talking about the critical practices that will be necessary for readership of poetry to flourish in this century, with the internet having taken capital investment out of the evaluative equation for the general reader.

How is applauding critics who "engage more, quote more," and "take advantage of the resources of internet publishing instead of bemoaning the end of print" in any way conservative? Ron Siliman is one of the critics who does these things; he must have conservative aesthetics, too, by that standard.

Jacob Russell said...


Comment I left on Scott's blog...

I confess that I dashed off these comments having my mind largely on something else--though related... so your comment/post set off the associations I was not prepared by time or inclination to defend as you surely deserve. Please accept my apologies. We may or may not disagree, but discussion in good faith is too valuable to subvert with less than mindful exchanges (mine, not yours)

Some of what I did have in mind... the lastest post on Barking Dog

Christopher William said...

Who exactly is this mythical larger audience that will embrace poetry if given the right recommendations?

I write poetry book reviews and publish them online. I write and publish poetry books POD. But I'm reasonably confident that the great mass of American people is simply not that interested in having their brains fried on poetry. It doesn't stop me from trying to get them hooked, but this notion that there's a mainstream audience relative to the number of producing artists is fantasy.

I had an awesometime at the MLA offsite. The 100 or so people there (over half of whom were performing) seemed to be having a great time too. People making each other happy through art is a wonderful thing.

Daniel E. Pritchard said...


Well, Mary Oliver sells books by the truck load. Billy Collins does pretty well for himself. Bukowski is a cash cow. Certain modernists and classics such as Frost more than carry their weight. So there are a lot of readers right there. I think the audience can grow too; there's no reason it couldn't.

That said, it's still going to be relatively small. The job of sorting through of the "number of producing artists" is exactly what I'm talking about.

People have, you know, lives and things to deal with, families and second jobs; there are hundreds of DIY poetry publishers out there, not to mention self-publishing authors, and (besides Ashbery) there isn't a poet alive who is consistently reviewed in major periodicals and touted as being worth people's effort and time. It is too damn much for people to wade through without a dedicated guide.

Curtis Faville said...

If I might be allowed to speak about this again...

Daniel, you bring up Eliot, Lowell and Ashbery, but fail to specify that there is any relationship between what the literary establishment views as worthy, and the conditions which actually produce the best art.

I've grown curmudgeonly enough to resent all prizes, awards, grants, assistantships, stipends, sabbaticals, and medals.

Eliot wrote his best work in relative isolation, long before anyone knew who he was. Which prizes did he win, and why?

Ashbery toiled in relative obscurity for 25 years before anyone knew he even existed.

Lowell was canonized as a prodigy, then spent the rest of his life trying to survive as an iconic authority--something he resolutely couldn't become.

My point is that the network of criteria and rewards exerts no meaningful influence on the germination and flowering of genius. It either gets the whole thing wrong, or ends up giving consolations or after-the-fact sops.

More often, it encourages the wrong people for the wrong reasons, and tends to lean on predictable (and outworn) paradigms for its bases. Almost by definition, no committee or "expert" can fairly assess (or even locate) worthy objects in the landscape of artistic inquiry, since they are (almost always) invisible while they're doing it.

All artistic patronage should be private, and even then it's a form of corruption. This doesn't mean that people don't have bills to pay, or lives to lead. It just means that you can't "buy and sell" creativity. It's possible to build "platforms" for performance, like orchestras and ballets and theatre companies, but that's different.

Jacob Russell said...

So this is about marketing? The dispersal of poetry's audience has a marketing solution?

So this is political. The problem is that there's not a concentrated, central audience for poetry--that poetry has a branding problem, is that it? Doesn't seem like there's much systematic difference between liberalism, and reactionary neolibralism, is there?

So why does poetry need a large concentrated audience? I mean, beyond giving a small handful of poets a larger market share? I honestly see no advantage whatsoever in that--to poets, to poetry.

Let me see what that might assume--the large national audience. A nation, for one... a national culture. Something that doesn't exist. Almost half the people who went to the polls last year were ready to put in the second highest office... a woman who hangs around with groups that believe states have the right to succeed (add a governor of Texas to the list...) Seems that issue wasn't altogether settled at Appomattox after all.

Are poets supposed to create that great national culture--that the "United" States has approximated (in appearance) only briefly... December 7, 1941, September 11, 2001? Which had nothing at all to do 'culture,' however you want to define it?

Not even our one great national voice could do that (how many copies of Leaves of Grass did he sell?)

So, do you seriously think that if only the major newspapers would do some hard sorting out and publish top drawer critical reviews, that this would raise the invisible cream to the surface?

Assuming what? That tough smart reviews would lure the best into existence--by pointing out what's good and what's not? Or are they to do a kind of de-homoginization? The cream is there, but lost in the colloidal suspension, is that it?

Nope... can't be that. What the market wants, what it requiers, is homogenization. Proof is in the pudding as you point out: homogenized Bukowski, homogenized "Snow Falling on the Road Not Taken" ... racks up some modest sales figures.

Yes, this is political. Through and through. There is no "United States culture." Thereis a multiplicity of cultures well represent by the multiplicity of poetries.

There is no national community that is not an abstraction, an assemblage of markets for the Corpratocracy--our military/industrial/prison complex-- to exploit while destroying the lives of those who have not been properly turned into dependent wage slaves. If this is that great central audience, no voice relevant to the real lives of those who make it up is going to ever be marketable--because it will be a voice too subversive to the neo liberal structures.

A poetry that addresses people as "human resources," that makes people feel good about being treated, used, exploited as not kind of poetry I would want to encourage--and that's the only kind the 'market' is going going to let go big time.

As for newspapers as a platform for critical reviews, you surely don't need to be reminded that newspapers no longer have a mass market... and that they have been dropping their book and literary supplements to pursue what they don't have, trying to win back what share of that mass market they once had and are rapidly losing.

Maybe American Idol could have a slot for some professor doing poetry reviews? Or whatever the Next Big Thing will be in mass entertainment.

Those are some of the questions that came to mind when I read your piece--questions that led me to see the stance you were taking as thoroughly political. Maybe you can answer them for me and change my mind.

Daniel E. Pritchard said...

CF: Curmudgeon away; it's often warranted — but Eliot was about to publish the Wasteland 90 yrs ago; Lowell was poetry consultant to the LOC; Ashbery had justwon every major award for Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror. Let's try for a little middle ground between total acolyte and complete dismissal.

JR: Thanks for responding at such length, I really appreciate these kinds of discussion here.

I never said "nation" so I don't know where that came from; but I agree that communities and communal identities are maleable (but to say they don't exist is, I think, a naive exaggeration and ignorant of the material aspect of the nation). I'm also not talking about "production" in terms of the artist writing poetry, but in terms of they or a publisher making it available to readers.

Convincing people to read this or that book is indeed about "marketing", if you want to frame all type of public discussion as a form of marketing. I choose not to. I hope that capital divestment from distribution will undermine the famed culture industry, but I never underestimate the lengths that people will go to change the rules and make money. I hope for the best.

What I was talking about was, again, the role of the critic as guide in the future of poetry. I believe there are readers who don't know what to read because of sheer volume, and reviews and critical essays help them decide about a title and, particularly, help them find new authors. Many, many more people read the NYT than any other book information source; if they covered more poetry I think more people would read it.

As to what the "market" will allow via content, I have to say that I disagree with your view of people as puppets; but since your assertions are just assertions, based neither in a critique nor in analysis but in paranoia indexing several postmodern theories (regurgitated then as the maxims of an ideology, you naughty boy), I don't feel compelled to elaborate.

Why does poetry need an audience? Why does art, for that sake? That seems to be your bigger question, behind all the others, so I feel somehow that it is one for which you have no answer yourself. If you are subtly asking whether I evaluate poetry purely in terms of politics, I do not. It debases the human person to conceptualize them as cogs in the machine of government / economics. Politics is a poor substitute for the human person. Language is the key element for me; its force and beauty — it is what defines us as humans, and it is what we hold in common, quite literally, with each other. Poetry is the highest form of the use of language, in my estimation, and worth reading as such.

Jacob Russell said...

Simple question: how are my view 'ideological' and yours not?

Daniel E. Pritchard said...

Well when one is using Marxist critical jargon, one usually wants to stay away from ideology. It is only a criticism because you posture.

Jacob Russell said...


Your last post makes no sense.

When 'one' does x, 'one' (is this the same anon 'one' or a new anon 'one,' presumably the passive voiced writer, who wants to 'stay away from ideology?'

How does One 'stay away from ideology?' By making sure One doesn't live in the wrong neighborhood? Where One might get mugged by some no-goodnik ideology?

What criticism? You offered none, nor did you answer my questions--you dismissed by label.

Marxist? Groucho maybe... see the Surrealism post at the top of my blog. I think I have more in common with Bataille or Lacan... with maybe a dose of Joe Bageant tossed in... If you're going to dismiss by association, at least get the associations right.

Your trust of language is touching, considering that it (language) is far more suitable to fabricating illusions than dispelling them. One need not (there he/she/it goes again, that ol' One... ) ahem... One need not have read Karl to notice how language is most often applied--and not in ways that get One closer to the truth... whatever that is.

You seem to believe it's a WISIWIG world out there--the way Fundy's read the Bible... a Fundy reading of the Book of Man and Nature ... no need for multi-level explication...(that'd be 'ideology, Fred help us!) save that for Litchur... which is somehow (if only we can lasso the Real Poets and hitch 'em to our non-ideological dog sled to Wasila)... while incredulously insisting that the painted stage props are but the Real World viewed through the transparent glass of language. If believing that that ain't Ideolgy there ain't no such thing!

I think we live on different planets... we sure don't speak the same lingo.

But I'm no perfessor. What the blip do I know?

Daniel E. Pritchard said...

JR: You don't know blip, that's what we've discovered here.

Jacob Russell said...

Yet you are incapable of answering my questions.

The problem, young fella, is that you don't know how to swim when you find yourself in strange waters--and when shared assumptions are few or none, that's precisely where the discussion needs to go--else there's only talking past one another... what Buber called 'missmeeting.'

And those fundamental assumptions are exactly what you dismiss (when not your own) as ideology... as though that were a bad word. I'd say you need to rethink your intellectual pretensions--in one so young, you can get away with this sort of thing, but you're heading for some major embarrassments down the line if you don't learn to examine your own pet beliefs with something at least close to a critical eye.

Curtis Faville said...


Not to be argumentative, again...

Ashbery published his first poems in the late 1940's, and Self-Portrait (his break-out collection, as far as his public reputation is concerned), was published in 1976. That's what I meant by 25 years. Other poets had read the Yale book, and Tennis Court was notorious in certain quarters, but he had no "public" in the sense we're speaking of it here.

Given the smallness of the actual poetasting public, it may be gratuitously silly to talk about the popularity of poetry, but my point is simple: Inevitably, we don't know what's going around us, in the present. We think we do, then 15 or 25 years later, we always discover that the really iconoclastic, subversive work was being done by someone we'd hardly noticed, or had been completely unaware of. Think of Whitman, Dickinson, Hopkins, Stevens, even Ashbery. If you'd have asked most poetry critics in 1965 who Ashbery was, and how he figured into the history of American post-war poetry, they'd have looked blankly at you. And yet the poems in Rivers and Mountains, Tennis Court Oath and The Double Dream all contain canonical post-Modern poems. Look at the winners of the poetry Pulitzers and NBA's between 1950 and 1970 and tell me which of them has a comparable importance to JA's.

Poetry Pulitzers
1950: Annie Allen by Gwendolyn Brooks
1951: Complete Poems by Carl Sandburg
1952: Collected Poems by Marianne Moore
1953: Collected Poems 1917-1952 by Archibald MacLeish
1954: The Waking by Theodore Roethke
1955: Collected Poems by Wallace Stevens
1956: Poems - North & South by Elizabeth Bishop
1957: Things of This World by Richard Wilbur
1958: Promises: Poems 1954-1956 by Robert Penn Warren
1959: Selected Poems 1928-1958 by Stanley Kunitz
1960: Heart's Needle by W. D. Snodgrass
1961: Times Three: Selected Verse From Three Decades by Phyllis McGinley
1962: Poems by Alan Dugan
1963: Pictures from Brueghel by William Carlos Williams
1964: At The End Of The Open Road by Louis Simpson
1965: 77 Dream Songs by John Berryman
1966: Selected Poems by Richard Eberhart
1967: Live or Die by Anne Sexton
1968: The Hard Hours by Anthony Hecht
1969: Of Being Numerous by George Oppen
1970: Untitled Subjects by Richard Howard

NBA for poetry
1950 William Carlos Williams Paterson: Book III and Selected Poems
1951 Wallace Stevens The Auroras of Autumn
1952 Marianne Moore Collected Poems
1953 Archibald MacLeish Collected Poems, 1917-1952
1954 Conrad Aiken Collected Poems
1955 Wallace Stevens The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens
1956 W. H. Auden The Shield of Achilles
1957 Richard Wilbur Things of This World
1958 Robert Penn Warren Promises: Poems, 1954-1956
1959 Theodore Roethke Words for the Wind
1960 Robert Lowell Life Studies
1961 Randall Jarrell The Woman at the Washington Zoo
1962 Alan Dugan Poems
1963 William Stafford Traveling Through the Dark
1964 John Crowe Ransom Selected Poems
1965 Theodore Roethke The Far Field
1966 James Dickey Buckdancer's Choice
1967 James Merrill Nights and Days
1968 Robert Bly The Light Around the Body
1969 John Berryman His Toy, His Dream, His Rest
1970 Elizabeth Bishop The Complete Poems

Except for Williams (the ghost of another earlier generation), none of these people could by today's standards be considered either innovative or usefully contemporary. (Don't get me wrong, I love them all, but I'm not talking personal taste here.)

[End part 1]

Curtis Faville said...

[Part II]

It wasn't until Self-Portrait that Bloom and Vendler and Howard got on board and signed on to the program--long after it had become "safe" to do so.

I'm not condeming critics for being blind, but I think it must be acknowledged that there's a lag, or blind spot in critical awareness. We tend to look critically at the past, but with little sense of assurance at what happens right under our noses. It's like looking at one of those visual cognition recognition patterns--you can't see the forest for the trees. If prizes are the "expression" of the gatekeeper's taste, then we must acknowledge that there's a kind of generational lag, based on the above evidence.

Just as Ashbery today is no longer new--in fact, he hasn't had anything new to say for at least 40 years, which exactly supports what I'm asserting here.

Christopher William said...

"It is too damn much for people to wade through without a dedicated guide."

But who picks the guides? You cited newspapers originally, which are products of enough capital behind editorial positions that are popular enough to sell, and would therefore be highly unlikely to recommend the same books I do if they hadn't mostly (and to my mind thankfully) abdicated that position. They also certainly would never have publishd reviews written in my style.

But on google, out of 26,200,000 results of a search on poetry book reviews, I come in 7th, because my domain has a high google rating and my reviews in particular have links from high rated sites.

It's not economic competition, it's competition for ideas, where the wierdos like me can compete on an even footing, at least for this highly limited market.

Jacob Russell said...

And so.. .I visited your blog... such as it is.. read a number of posts... and left comments... with some real effort to engage--quite unreciprocated... either on your blog... or by your having checked in to mine to see what I might have to say in more expansive space.

You do really seem to have gotten the idea that, having won some low rung perch in the publishing sphere--you... at the tender age of 26, have no more need to think beyond what you picked up in your near post-adolescence... all the sadder for you, in that you don't seem to have a clue of how you've been conned... bought n' paid for, for cheap.

Where do you really think you're gonna be in ten years?

If it can't be bought in dollars, I wouldn't count on you having much of a future to look forward to.

CivilizeMe said...

Jacob, can you offer your criticism more concisely? I have no sense of what you're getting at, other than that Daniel is wrong (because he is young, Republicanite, authoritarian, ideological, none of which I see evidence for other than his age).

I endorse the campaign for a wider market for poetry, not because it would help "poetry" (an abstraction) or poets (mostly unprofessional unwarranted hacks, poetasters, and cranks), but because there is some chance such efforts would connect more readers with poems. I don't consider poetry a product, sold for the benefit of the manufacturer or third-party distributor -- I think of it as a medicine and a fortifier that should be folded into any daily diet.

I don't think good art grows on trees, though. Neither does good burgundy flow from the rocks or spaghetti bolognese fall from the sky. The world is hostile to human life and to the pleasures that make our lives worth living. Either we can rest easy on our sense of entitlement and hope that good writing gets written, and that it is advanced and brought to market and made available. Or we do the work to make this happen. Call this the work of gorgons and gatekeepers if you like -- but since I don't see another way to do it, anywhere, everywhere, pardon me if I don't wait for your endorsement before getting to that same work myself.

As for those who have been previously excluded; let us hope the good among them are championed by gorgons and gatekeepers of their own.

What a hodge-podge response I've written. I might have just said, "it is the language that matters, the words on the page and what they perform in the mind of a reader." How about it, J? Am I naive, or incorrectly political, or... ?

Jacob Russell said...


Major complain with Pritchard, that he does not respond in good faith, doesn't answer questions, uses labels for arguments.

As for my take on politics and poetry-- two posts from The Dog:

Daniel E. Pritchard said...

Curtis: I see your point, and agree, and never disagreed, and just am not so despondent about the situation as you seem to be. Not, that is, willing to give up.

CW: Exactly right. That's exactly what I was saying here, or trying to. There is the opportunity now to separate our evaluative processes of art (and critical authority) from capital investment (such as newspapers); it would be a good thing, I think, because I'm rather influenced by Adorno and Jameson in terms of my opinion of culture industry. I hope that it helps readers find more worthy poets, because newspapers particularly are a struggling, probably terminally ill media source. The techniques I suggest — honest, reasonable engagement and extensive quotation — are just good practices and helpful for readers to decide whether they agree with the critic.

JR: You are wrong about me, but you ignore everything I say that complicates your stereotype. So, I'm done with you. Happy new year.

Christopher William said...

"There is the opportunity now to separate our evaluative processes of art (and critical authority) from capital investment (such as newspapers);... I hope that it helps readers find more worthy poets, because newspapers particularly are a struggling, probably terminally ill media source. The techniques I suggest — honest, reasonable engagement and extensive quotation — are just good practices and helpful for readers to decide whether they agree with the critic."

But I disagree with the whole notion of critical authority. I wouldn't suggest that there's a right or a wrong way to review a poetry book any more than I would suggest that there's a right or wrong way to write a poetry book.

I don't want to replace newspaper reviews with other reviewers following the same paradigm voluntarily. People who like their poetry analyzable, analyzed and safe for consumption will find the kind of review you suggest useful, but it limits the kinds of poetry you can talk about and depends on a way of thinking about poetry that I don't think I share.

I write experiential reviews because I have an experiential view of poetry. I'm not sure what honest reasonable enagement is and I try not to quote at all. You might find them interesting, and you might disagree that they even qualify as reviews.

Daniel E. Pritchard said...

WC: Experimental criticism sounds like a perfectly valid response to poetry; and it's true that I might not classify it as "criticsm" or "reviews" in a narrow sense, but I wouldn't say that you should not go forth and write them. If your approach is meaningful to readers, they will follow your writing -- and that is how one gains critical authority, which is just to say that you've earned the respect of your readership.

I conceive of the role of a critic differently; as being, at least in part, in the service of readers as critical guides: "Here are my thoughts on this book, my analysis and evaluation and reading; I hope it's helpful to you." They might disagree or agree, or agree only partially; they might hate the author unfairly because of me or love an author unfairly, or feel either way fairly; they might discover a new writer they'd never heard of, or think differently about an author they already know well. I try to be fair, to not hold the work to a standard it doesn't have any intention of meeting, to discuss its connections to other work, and to show the passages I'm discussing.

In the end, readers really decide the authority of a critic on the internet: either you have readers or you talk into a void.

CivilizeMe said...

Jacob, your answer to my question was an ad hominem non-answer.

So. What fault do you find in what DEP picked up in post-adolescence? What books do you think those are, and what books should he be reading instead? And why?

I read Pound, Celan, Frost, Eliot, Huidobro, and so on and so on. Is this personal canon nothing more than a wad of wool pulled over my eyes?

Curtis Faville said...


I was disappointed that you rejected my longish post on the prize/awards system. I went to a lot of trouble to construct that--with the lists of award winners--only to have it nixed.

Selective moderation should--as I have often said online--be restricted to spoofers, scatology and trolls, not to serious argument which you just want to squash.

Curtis Faville said...


Thanks for publishing the post in question.