HERE WE GO AGAIN: SCARRIET’S POETRY HOT 100!!

Dark Messy Tower

1. Mark Edmundson Current Lightning Rod of Outrage

2. David Lehman BAP Editor now TV star: PBS’ Jewish Broadway

3. Rita Dove She knows Dunbar is better than Oppen

4. Matthew Hollis Profoundly researched Edward Thomas bio

5. Paul Hoover Status quo post-modern anthologist, at Norton

6. Don Share Wins coveted Poetry magazine Editorship

7. Sharon Olds Gets her Pulitzer

8. Michael Robbins The smartest guy writing on contemporary poetry now–see Hoover review

9. Marjorie Perloff Still everyone’s favorite Take-No-Prisoners Dame Avant-Garde

10. Natasha Trethewey Another Round as Laureate

11. Ron Silliman The Avant-garde King

12. Tony Hoagland The Billy Collins of Controversy

13. Billy Collins The real Billy Collins

14. Kenneth Goldsmith Court Jester of Talked-About

15. Terrance Hayes The black man’s Black Man’s Poet?

16. William Logan Favorite Bitch Critic

17. Avis Shivani Second Favorite Bitch Critic

18. John Ashbery Distinguished and Sorrowful Loon

19. Stephen Burt P.C. Throne at Harvard

20. Robert Hass  West Coast Establishment Poet

21. Harold Bloom Reminds us ours is an Age of Criticism, not Poetry

22. Helen Vendler She, in the same stultifying manner, reminds us of this, too.

23. Dana Gioia  Sane and Optimistic Beacon?

24. Bill Knott An On-line Bulldog of Poignant Common Sense

25. Franz Wright Honest Common Sense with darker tones

26. Henry Gould Another Reasonable Poet’s Voice on the blogosphere

27. Anne Carson The female academic poet we are supposed to take seriously

28. Seth Abramson Will give you a thousand reasons why MFA Poetry is great

29. Ben Mazer Poet of the Poetry! poetry! More Poetry! School who is actually good

30. Larry Witham Author, Picasso and the Chess Player (2013), exposes Modern Art/Poetry cliques

31. Mary Oliver Sells, but under Critical assault

32. Annie Finch The new, smarter Mary Oliver?

33. Robert Pinsky Consensus seems to be he had the best run as Poet Laureate

34. Mark McGurl His book, The Program Era, has quietly had an impact

35. Seamus Heaney Yeats in a minor key

36. W.S. Merwin Against Oil Spills but Ink Spill his writing method

37. George Bilgere Do we need another Billy Collins?

38. Cate Marvin VIDA will change nothing

39. Philip Nikolayev Best living translator?

40. Garrison Keillor As mainstream poetry lover, he deserves credit

41. Frank Bidart Poetry as LIFE RUBBED RAW

42. Jorie Graham The more striving to be relevant, the more she seems to fade

43. Alan Cordle Strange, how this librarian changed poetry with Foetry.com

44. Janet Holmes Ahsahta editor and MFA prof works the po-biz system like no one else

45. Paul Muldoon How easy it is to become a parody of oneself!

46. Cole Swensen Some theories always seem to be missing something

47. Matthew Dickman Was reviewed by William Logan. And lived

48. James Tate For some reason it depressed us to learn he was not a laugh riot in person.

49. Geoffrey Hill His poetry is more important than you are

50. Derek Walcott A great poet, but great poets don’t exist anymore

51. Charles Bernstein A bad poet, but bad poets don’t exist anymore, either

52. Kay Ryan Emily Dickinson she’s not. Maybe Marianne Moore when she’s slightly boring?

53. Laura Kasischke She’s published 8 novels. One became a movie starring Uma Thurman. Who the hell does she think she is?

54. Louise Gluck X-Acto!

55. Rae Armantrout “Quick, before you die, describe the exact shade of this hotel carpet.”

56. Heather McHugh “A coward and a coda share a word.”

57. D.A. Powell “Of course a child. What else might you have lost.”

58. Peter Gizzi Take your lyric and heave

59. Marilyn Chin Shy Iowa student went on to write an iconic 20th century poem: How I Got That Name

60. Eileen Myles Interprets Perloff’s avant-gardism as mourning

61. Lyn Hejinian As I sd to my friend, because I am always blah blah blah

62. Nikki Finney Civil Rights is always hot

63. K. Silem Mohammad This Flarfist Poet composes purely Anagram versions of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Fie on it.

64. Meg Kearney Lectured in public by Franz Wright. Still standing.

65. Noah Eli Gordon Teaches at Boulder, published by Ahsahta

66. Peter Campion A poet, a critic and a scholar!

67. Simon Ortiz Second wave of the Native American Renaissance

68. Maya Angelou She continues to travel the world

69. Lyn Lifshin “Barbie watches TV alone, naked” For real?

70. Ange Mlinko Born in ’69 in Philly, writes for The Nation

71. Jim Behrle They also serve who only write bad poetry

72. Elizabeth Alexander She read in front of all those people

73. Dorothea Lasky The Witchy Romantic School

74. Virgina Bell The poet. Do not confuse with burlesque dancer

75. Fanny Howe Wreaks havoc out of Boston

76. Erin Belieu Available for VIDA interviews

77. Ariana Reines Another member of the witchy romantic school

78. Jed Rasula Old Left poetry critic

79. John Hennessy “Too bad I felt confined by public space/despite her kinky talk, black net and lace”

80. Timothy Donnelly “Driver, please. Let’s slow things down. I can’t endure/the speed you favor, here where the air’s electric”

81. Clive James His translation, in quatrains, of Dante’s Divine Comedy, published this year

82. Danielle Pafunda “We didn’t go anywhere, we went wrong/in our own backyard. We didn’t have a yard,/but we went wrong in the bedroom”

83. Michael Dickman Matthew is better, right?

84. Kit Robinson “Get it first/but first get it right/in the same way it was”

85. Dan Beachy Quick “My wife found the key I hid beneath the fern./My pens she did not touch. She did not touch/The hundred pages I left blank to fill other days”

86. Ilya Kaminsky Teaches at San Diego State, won Yinchuan International Poetry Prize

87. Robert Archambeau Son of a potter, this blog-present poet and critic protested Billy Collins’ appointment to the Poet Laureateship

88. Kent Johnson Best known as a translator

89. Frederick Seidel An extroverted Philip Larkin?

90. David Orr Poetry columnist for New York Times wrote on Foetry.com

91. Richard Wilbur Oldest Rhymer and Moliere translator

92. Kevin Young Finalist in Criticism for National Book Critics Circle

93. Carolyn Forche Human rights activist born in 1950

94. Carol Muske Dukes Former California Laureate writes about poetry for LA Times

95. William Kulik Writes paragraph poems for the masses

96. Daniel Nester The sad awakening of the MFA student to the bullshit

97. Alexandra Petri Began 2013 by calling poetry “obsolete” in Wash Post

98. John Deming Poet, told Petri, “We teach your kids.”

99. C. Dale Young “Medical students then, we had yet to learn/when we could or could not cure”

100. Clayton Eshleman Sometimes the avant-garde is just boring

ANIS!! LEFT-WING HUFF POST CRITIC OF THE TWITTER AGE

Anis Shivani might be a bitter guy, but as a literary critic at the Huffington Post  he exemplifies the sort of high-brow hating which pleases like a good nerdy fuck.

Let’s say this much of criticism which pummells its subjects: it will always be closer to the truth. 

Think about your own life.  Really knowing your friends, your lovers, your spouses, your places of unemployment, are you not palpably aware of numerous flaws, faults, stupidities, culpabilities and insanities, and isn’t your intimate experience the reason for this—not because you happen to be mean? 

Criticism is—criticism.  Why shouldn’t we expect criticism to provide the insights of the inevitable flaws?  Sure, there are perfect poems here and there, perhaps a flawless short story, but when reviewing the corpus of a fashionable writer, life being what it is, there’s got to be let-downs, just as we are disappointed by our friends, our lovers, our jobs

Social decorum should keep us from attacking our personal relationships—but why shouldn’t we be honest regarding a book that wants out time and money? 

Anis Shivani is correct—both in his criticism and by what his criticism symbolizes: In Literary Criticism, the bland and cheery is always bad, always a lie.

Anis Shivani is correct—even as we disagree with him; disagreeing with him (he over-values High Modernism, for instance) is not the point, for Shivani’s whole impulse his correct, and his audience responds—people deeply want honest criticism, and despite what the status quo sometimes says, they shouldn’t feel guilty for wanting it.

We disagree with Shivani when he writes of Billy Collins’ work: “escapist denial of death is pervasive.”  Has Shivani read Collins’ poem, “Passengers?” And we are only mildly miffed that Shivani stole our idea—debuted on Scarriet several years ago—that Collins’ poetry is “stand-up comedy.”  We forgive Shivani, for this nice observation alone: “[Collins]poems have lately become mostly about writing poems–in his pajamas, with a cup of coffee in hand.”

We also like that Shivani is well-acquainted with all genres; there’s nothing we hate more than ghetto-izing and niche-ing.   In his recent The 15 Most Overrated Contemporary American Writers, 7 are fiction writers, 6 are poets, and 2 are critics.

Shivani opens with a moral, common sense overview:

Are the writers receiving the major awards and official recognition really the best writers today? Or are they overrated mediocrities with little claim to recognition by posterity? The question is harder than ever to answer today, yet it is a worthwhile exercise to attempt (along with identifying underrated writers not favored by bureaucracy).

It’s difficult to know today because we no longer have major critics with wide reach who take vocal stands. There are no Malcolm Cowleys, Edmund Wilsons, and Alfred Kazins to separate the gold from the sand. Since the onset of poststructuralist theory, humanist critics have been put to pasture. The academy is ruled by “theorists” who consider their work superior to the literature they deconstruct, and moreover they have no interest in contemporary literature. As for the reviewing establishment, it is no more than the blurbing arm for conglomerate publishing, offering unanalytical “reviews” announcing that the emperor is wearing clothes (hence my inclusion of Michiko Kakutani).

The ascent of creative writing programs means that few with critical ability have any incentive to rock the boat–awards and jobs may be held back in retaliation. The writing programs embody a philosophy of neutered multiculturalism/political correctness; as long as writers play by the rules (no threatening history or politics), there’s no incentive to call them out. (A politically fecund multiculturalism–very desirable in this time of xenophobia–is the farthest thing from the minds of the official arbiters: such writing would be deemed “dangerous,” and never have a chance against the mediocrities.)

The MFA writing system, with its mechanisms of circulating popularity and fashionableness, leans heavily on the easily imitable. Cloying writers like Denis Johnson, Amy Hempel, Lydia Davis, Aimee Bender, and Charles D’Ambrosio are held up as models of good writing, because they’re easy enough to copy. And copied they are, in tens of thousands of stories manufactured in workshops. Others hide behind a smokescreen of unreadable inimitability–Marilynne Robinson, for example–to maintain a necessary barrier between the masses and the overlords. Since grants, awards, and residencies are controlled by the same inbreeding group, it’s difficult to see how the designated heavies can be displaced.

As for conglomerate publishing, the decision-makers wouldn’t know great literature if it hit them in the face. Their new alliance with the MFA writing system is bringing at least a minimum of readership for mediocre books, and they’re happy with that. And the mainstream reviewing establishment (which is crumbling by the minute) validates their choices with fatuous accolades, recruiting mediocre writers to blurb (review) them.

If we don’t understand bad writing, we can’t understand good writing. Bad writing is characterized by obfuscation, showboating, narcissism, lack of a moral core, and style over substance. Good writing is exactly the opposite. Bad writing draws attention to the writer himself. These writers have betrayed the legacy of modernism, not to mention postmodernism. They are uneasy with mortality. On the great issues of the day they are silent (especially when they seem to address them, like William T. Vollmann). They desire to be politically irrelevant, and they have succeeded. They are the unreadable Booth Tarkingtons, Joseph Hergesheimers, and John Herseys of our time, earnestly bringing up the rear.

It’s hard to argue with his general points, and we like his pedagogical earnestness, too: “If we don’t understand bad writing, we can’t understand good writing.”

Here are the summary observations on the 15, and Shivani is definitely a critic of the twitter age, as he packs each line with left-wing, moral outrage:

Ashbery: When reality = language (as his carping cousins the language poets, have it) politics becomes vacuous, and any usurper can, and will step in.

Collins: Pioneered the poet as the stand-up comedian…

Cunningham: Proves the point that to be successful as a fiction writer today, all you have to do is create facile pastiche assemblages. 

Diaz: Replaces plot in stories and novels with pumped-up “voice.”

Foer: Always quick to jump on the bandwagon of the moment.

Gluck: Her flatness of tone (mistaken as equanimity by infatuated critics) suggests paralysis after emotional death.

Graham: Started off modestly, but with increasing official recognition, her abstractions, pseudo-philosophizing, self-importance, and centerless long lines have spun out of control.

Kakutani: Simply the worst book critic on the planet.

Lahiri: Utterly unwilling to write about any thing other than privileged Bengali immigrants with PhDs living in Cambridge’s Central and Inman Squares and making easy adjustments to top of American meritocratic pyramid.

Nelson: Workshop writing, dysfunctionality is thy name, and there is no better writer to learn family dysfunction from…

Oliver: A “nature poet” whose poems all seem to follow the same pattern: time, animal, setting, observation, epiphany.

Olds: Infantilization packaged in pseudo-confession…

Tan: Empowered other immigrant writers to make mountains out of molehills of their minor adjustment struggles.

Vendler: Zero poetic feeling…has never uttered one original insight…

Vollmann: Encapsulates ethical vacuity of American fiction after the collapse of 1970s postmodernism.

It does not matter, for instance, that we feel Sharon Olds has written some moving poems: Anis Shivani is entitled to his opinion of Olds’ poetry—and if that’s how he feels about it, he should be allowed to utter it, and everyone should be encouraged to be that opinionated—if only to combat the reverse condition: the true literary nightmare of know-nothing politeness.

SCARRIET’S POETRY HOT 100!!

All ye need to know?

1. Rita Dove—Penguin editor reviewed by Helen Vendler in the NYRB
2. Terrance Hayes—In Dove’s best-selling anthology, and young
3. Kevin Young—In Dove’s anthology, and young
4. Amiri Baraka—In Dove’s anthology
5. Billy Collins—in the anthology
6. John Ashbery—a long poem in the anthology
7. Dean Young—not in the anthology
8. Helen Vendler—hated the anthology
9. Alan CordleTime’s masked Person-of-the-Year = Foetry.com’s once-anonymous Occupy Poetry protestor?
10. Harold Bloom—you can bet he hates the anthology
11. Mary Oliver—in the anthology
12. William Logan—meanest and the funniest critic (a lesson here?)
13. Kay Ryan—our day’s e.e. cummings
14. John Barr—the Poetry Man and “the Man.”
15. Kent Johnson—O’Hara and Koch will never be the same?
16. Cole Swensen—welcome to Brown!
17. Tony Hoagland—tennis fan
18. David Lehman—fun lovin’ BAP gate-keeper
19. David Orr—the deft New York Times critic
20. Rae Armantrout—not in the anthology
21. Seamus Heaney—When Harvard eyes are smilin’
22. Dan Chiasson—new reviewer on the block
23. James Tate—guaranteed to amuse
24. Matthew Dickman—one of those bratty twins
25. Stephen Burt—the Crimson Lantern
26. Matthew Zapruder—aww, everybody loves Matthew!
27. Paul MuldoonNew Yorker Brit of goofy complexity
28. Sharon Olds—Our Lady of Slightly Uncomfortable Poetry
29. Derek Walcott—in the anthology, latest T.S. Eliot prize winner
30. Kenneth Goldsmith—recited traffic reports in the White House
31. Jorie Graham—more teaching, less judging?
32. Alice Oswald—I don’t need no stinkin’ T.S. Eliot Prize
33. Joy Harjo—classmate of Dove’s at Iowa Workshop (in the anthology)
34. Sandra Cisneros—classmate of Dove’s at Iowa Workshop (in the anthology)
35. Nikki Giovanni—for colored girls when po-biz is enuf
36. William Kulik—not in the anthology
37. Ron Silliman—no more comments on his blog, but in the anthology
38. Daisy Fried—setting the Poetry Foundation on fire
39. Eliot Weinberger—poetry, foetry, and politics
40. Carol Ann Duffy—has Tennyson’s job
41. Camille Dungy—runs in the Poetry Foundation forest…
42. Peter Gizzi—sensitive lyric poet of the hour…
43. Abigail Deutsch—stole from a Scarriet post and we’ll always love her for it…
44. Robert Archambeau—his Samizdat is one of the more visible blogs…
45. Michael Robbins—the next William Logan?
46. Carl Phillips—in the anthology
47. Charles NorthWhat It Is Like, New & Selected chosen as best of 2011 by David Orr
48. Marilyn Chin—went to Iowa, in the anthology
49. Marie Howe—a tougher version of Brock-Broido…
50. Dan Beachy-Quick—gotta love that name…
51. Marcus Bales—he’s got the Penguin blues.
52. Dana Gioia—he wants you to read Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, so what r u waiting 4?
53. Garrison Keillor—the boil on the neck of August Kleinzahler
54. Alice Notley—Penguin’s Culture of One by this Paris-based author made a lot of 2011 lists
55. Mark McGurl—won Truman Capote Award for 2011’s The Program Era: Rise of Creative Writing
56. Daniel Nester—wrap your blog around my skin, yea-uh.
57. Yusef Komunyakaa—in the anthology
58. Adrienne Rich—in the anthology
59. Jeremy Bass— reviewed the anthology in the Nation
60. Anselm Berrigan—somebody’s kid
61. Travis Nichols—kicked us off Blog Harriet
62. Seth Abramson—poet and lawyer
63. Stephen Dunn—one of the best poets in the Iowa style
64. Philip Levine—Current laureate, poem recently in the New Yorker  Movin’ up!
65. Ben Mazer—Does anyone remember Landis Everson?
66. Reb Livingston—Her No Tells blog rocks the contemporary scene
67. Marjorie Perloff—strutting avant academic
68. John Gallaher—Kent Johnson can’t get enough punishment on Gallaher’s blog
69. Fred Viebahn—poet married to the Penguin anthologist
70. James Fenton—said after Penguin review hit, Dove should have “shut up”
71. Rodney Jones—BAP poem selected by Dove riffs on William Carlos Williams’ peccadilloes
72. Mark Doty—no. 28’s brother
73. Cate Marvin—VIDA and so much more
74. Richard Wilbur—still hasn’t run out of rhyme
75. W.S. Merwin—no punctuation, but no punk
76. Jim Behrle—the Adam Sandler of po-biz
77. Bin Ramke—still stinging from the Foetry hit
78. Thomas Sayer Ellis—not in the anthology
79. Henri Cole—poetry editor of the New Republic
80. Meghan O’Rourke—Behrle admires her work
81. Anne Waldman—the female Ginsberg?
82. Anis Shivani—get serious, poets! it’s time to change the world!
83. Robert Hass—Occupy story in Times op-ed
84. Lyn Hejinian—stuck inside a baby grand piano
85. Les Murray—greatest Australian poet ever?
86. Sherman Alexie—is this one of the 175 poets to remember? 
87. Geoffrey Hill—great respect doesn’t always mean good
88. Elizabeth Alexander—Frost got Kennedy, she got Obama
89. A.E. Stallings—A rhymer wins MacArthur!
90. Frank Bidart—in the anthology
91. Robert Pinsky—in the anthology
92. Carolyn Forche—in the anthology
93. Louise Gluck—not in the anthology
94. Keith Waldrop—his Hopwood Award paid her fare from Germany
95. Rosmarie Waldrop—her Hopwood helpled launch Burning Deck
96. C.D. Wright—born in the Ozark mountains
97. Forrest Gander—married to no. 96
98. Mark Strand—translator, surrealist
99. Margaret Atwood—the best Canadian poet of all time?
100. Gary B. Fitzgerald—the poet most likely to be remembered a million years from now

HEY, FOETS: ANIS SHIVANI AND ALAN CORDLE ARE COMING AFTER YOU

Will this dubious po-biz hustle one day be a thing of the past?

Get used to this name: Anis Shivani.

Anis Shivani stirs the poetry pot like no one else these days, and bad news for foets: he’s coming after you.  In a comment beneath his recent Huffington Post article on how poetry contests ought to be done away with, Shivani writes:

After publishing this article, I was happy to be contacted by Al Cordle, who ran the Foetry.com website in the mid-2000s (see info. about Foetry’s exposure of rigged contests here:  http://en.­wikipedia.­org/wiki/F­oetry.com).  Al suggests pursuing legal action against demonstrab­ly corrupt contests where a relationsh­ip between a judge and a contest winner can be shown.  I think this is an excellent idea, and maybe the only way to bring down the contest model, delegitimi­ze it, and replace it with a better alternativ­e.  Aggrieved poets who know of clear conflicts of interest or improper means of selection should consider pursuing for damages through legal means.  I’m all for it.

Meanwhile, still waiting for a direct response from Brian Turner and Lory Bedikian as to whether there was a prior relationsh­ip/friends­hip/connec­tion of some sort which helped Lory become the winner of the contest, despite the fact that both judge and winner attended the same MFA program at Oregon, when entries must have been received from all over the country.

—Anis Shivani, Huffington Post

Why is Foetry.com still making itself felt in po-biz after Alan Cordle’s site closed four years ago?  The front page story in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Stephen Burt hit piece in the Boston Globe, the Joan Houlihan attack in Poets & Writers have apparently made Foetry famous forever.

Foetry is an attractive theory because in a poetry world of crackpot theory—a legacy of Modernism’s clique-y, reactionary, manifesto-ist, post-war takeover of the university (think: Ezra Pound, a core of associates, and their associates)—Foetry effectively reifies a number of tropes at once, bringing persons back into the poetry mix in an accessible post-Romantic manner.  “Naming names” was Cordle’s cry on the old Foetry.com, and this is what makes Foetry so volatile (and exciting): it may have begun as Cordle asking poetry contest moderators to play fair, and, in many ways, Foetry.com was simply a consumer protection site causing cheaters to howl; but a serendipitous expansion has occured in which Foetry is coming to stand for an explanation of all aspects of poetry, if not for life itself.

What is foetry?  Foetry is not just a noun, but a verb: it refers to a whole range of things which persons, on behalf of poetry, doFoets are poets who are foes of poetry in various ways, insidious foes of poetry because they appear to be friends of poetry, chiefly acting in the paradoxical manner of either making poetry more expensive, and because of this, cheapening it, or cheapening it, and thus making it rare.

There are two basic kinds of Foets: the social kind, who secretly pick their friends in public poetry contests, and the theoretical kind: the windbag theorist who makes poetry more “difficult” and ends up making poetry an elaborate game for simpletons.

Foetry is more concerned with persons than poets or poetry, but then every theory on poetry is a sly attempt by the theorist to stack the deck in his or her favor: please read poetry the way I write it.  But since Foetry is concerned with sly behavior in a reified manner to begin with, it ends up self-reflexively hitting the jackpot of a method that historically, socially, and psychologically is able to see through the rubbish of post-modernist, theoretical over-kill, to arrive at inclusive, grounded, practical answers to what poets as human beings are doing.

Read Scarriet, the sudden, inspired brain-child of Alan Cordle.  Watch and learn.  Monday Love of Foetry.com is now Thomas Brady. 

Censorship, bullying and banning by Blog Harriet produced Scarriet.

Former Scarriet editor Christopher Woodman’s pocket was being picked by Tupelo Press when he read about the scam in Foetry.com

Woodman ditched Scarriet a year ago because he could not stomach attacks by his Scarriet co-editor on Red Wheel Barrow modernism.  Woodman has a weak stomach. He ate too much fallen High Modernist fruit.  He got high on High Modernism and lost his way.  But the point isn’t whether you like the Red Wheel Barrow or not—it’s whether you can handle criticism.

Poetry is not a lame feel-good exercise. You may find things you like in poetry, but poetry itself is not a feel-good exercise. The coterie-mind thinks: “you are a poet, so you must be my friend.!”  The coterie-mind sucks Criticism out of poetry.  The most boring (and most tyrannical) people are those who won’t accept Criticism. Development requires Criticism.  The world needs Criticism—not censorship.

If Foetry can be summed up as a philosophy it might be this way: Art is not an object, poetry is not a text; art and poetry are what people do to each other in the widest sense.

Brian Turner and Lory Bedikian, what do you think?

PLAYING AT POET

Get over him, already!

Scarriet readers know how effortlessly I crank out my diatribes against Modernism, and I think it’s beginning to have an effect. I sense out there a new defensiveness when it comes to the High Moderns; not that poets are finally turning their backs on them—they are much too stupid to do that—but I sense a growing panic as they realize: Modernism is a parent, that despite all my obscure and ribald post-modernism, I’ll never out-perform, and I’ll never escape.

The panic is probably for two reasons: First, it’s the twenty-first century and the Modernists grew up in the 19th.  So it’s a simple matter of time marching on.   If the Modernist legacy is to plough new ground, why is the “new ground” overrun with William Carlos Williams [1883-1963]  Condo Developments?

Second, such reactionary dogs as Dana Gioia and William Logan hold aloft the Age of High Modernism as the Golden Age.  And then you’ve got Scarriet harping on the ugly political aspects of the Modernists.

But the biggest reason might be this one: What’s so special about the Modernists, really?  Shouldn’t readers of poetry—and not just a handful of historians and scholars—enjoy poetry of all ages?  Do we need our poetry to remind us on the hour that we live in the “m-o-d-e-r-n age?”  When push  comes to shove, why should a William Carlos Williams poem, for instance, have more meaning for us than a poem from any other era?  Have we ever stopped to really think about this?  Is Wallace Stevens necessary for us to walk away with a more profound philosophical understanding of the world?  Come on.  Really?  What exactly is this philosophy that hasn’t been articulated before by numerous other poets and philosophers?   It would be one thing if the ideas of Wallace Stevens were part of a public debate, so that it would behoove us to join it, for that reason, but this is not the case.  His ideas are obscure.  Are any of the so-called High Modernists significant due to the timelessness and significance of their ideas?   Po-biz has invested a great deal of intellectual capital in “Make it New!”   Even if this were not uttered 100 years ago now—what does it mean? 

Rapid-fire commentary characterizes po-biz talk, but there’s little real thinking.

What of ideas like Eliot’s “objective correlative?”   Here’s a “high-modernist” concept, but interestingly enough, it applies to centuries of literary history, of which, because we’re ardent “modernists,” we are now ignorant.

Eliot and the New Critics did make some interesting criticism regarding “pure and impure” poetry (an essay by Robert Penn Warren by that name, for instance, is neglected but brilliant) and as intellectuals like Ransom and Tate came to terms with what Eliot had done in The Sacred Wood, a lively and intelligent socio-aesthetics was born, even among these rabid haters of the Romantics. 

But the Beats were finally too sexy for the New Critics, and the Creative Writing Programs too profitable for disinterested Criticism.

Today’s po-biz commentators, even though they can smell rot, only talk in sound-bites.  The Romantics could argue, the Romantics could philosophize.  (Who actually reads Byron, anymore?  We don’t even know what Romanticism is, much less Classicism.)

Philosophy?  A real sympathetic, historical perspective?  In Po-biz today?  Nope.   The Modernists, and we, their heirs, are all mysticism, symbol, and easy advice.

Take, for example, the latest from Huff Post’s Anis Shivani’s Modernism debate:

“Finally, I’ll risk restating the obvious by venturing that there’s only one useful piece of advice for any young writer: write. Pay no attention to the state of American poetry, the death of the book, the legacy of Modernism, the bedbugs in your cheap apartment: ignore as much as you possibly can get away with and write. Resist the careerist temptations of PoBiz. Stay home and write a poem. There is no particular place to get to in Poetry Land, anyway. The point of the journey is the journey itself, the process of writing poetry, which hopefully you consider enriching and indispensable. If not, spare yourself a lot of grief. Go back to that fork in the yellow woods, watch out for ATVs driven by gun-toting meth-heads, and pick another road.”

—Campbell McGrath

Ignore as much as you possibly can?   Stay at home and write?   The point of the journey is the journey itself? 

Imagine your typical college freshman today: angry, confused, depressed, bereft of history, philosophy, culture, has never been to a museum, has never read Plato, or any literature before 1920, knows only the shallowest pop culture, the shallowest ethics, and this is Campbell McGrath’s advice?  Stay at home and write?  Are you fucking kidding me?

Or, this one:

“The legacy of Modernism is alive and well–though, frankly, it’s so broad as to be pretty much unbetrayable. After all, the Language poets and Philip Levine both envision their work as building on William Carlos Williams. Robert Bly thought “Deep Image” poetry was a return to true Imagism, yet Ron Silliman lumps Bly and James Wright with many of the “academic” and Confessional poets Bly excoriated in The Fifties.

All poetry lives somewhere on a spectrum between Classicism and Romanticism. If high Modernists such as Eliot, Pound, and Moore tilt toward the Classical side, and the Confessional and Beat poets inhabit the Romantic, then we’ve more or less marked the boundaries of the Modernist legacy. But that gives us quite an aesthetic and intellectual range to play around in.

Many American poets frustrated by 1980s post-Confessionalism–which leaned largely on personal narrative and ad misericordium for its effects–have turned back to the high Modernists, Objectivists, and New York School to balance out a poetic that was, in the end, too baldly Romantic. Sometimes this turn has produced new work that’s mechanical, emotionally flat, or unparsable–but that doesn’t negate the fact that this rebalancing is mostly a good move, one that’s hardly a betrayal of Modernism. Indeed, it’s a backward turn similar to Eliot’s when he exalted the Metaphysical poets over the Victorians and Romantics.”

—Wayne Miller

The term “classical” gets thrown around an awful lot these days in a vague, yet extremely self-congratulatory manner.   As if applying this label to Ezra Loomis Pound and Miss Moore (!!) somehow lets us off the hook for the roaring ignorance of 99% of literary history.  The Titan Moderns, half-Classical, half-Romantic, stride the ages, trampling the pygmies and dwarfs who chirped in Athens, tweedled in Rome, and squeaked during the Renaissance.

And thank goodness for the restorative Objectivists and the balancing act of the New York School!

This isn’t poetry.  This is playing at it.

ANIS SHIVANI ASKS: “HAVE AMERICAN POETS BETRAYED THE GREAT LEGACY OF MODERNISM?”

WHAT GREAT LEGACY?

Or, Why This Legacy?

Anis, how can you have a debate about the current state of American poetry by making this assumption—an assumption of “greatness”—right from the start?

The “moderns” had no hit records.  They are not read.

True, outside of school, very little poetry—and very little literature of merit—is read, but if we can’t blame the moderns for this, we certainly can’t ascribe to the moderns a “legacy,” for the public turned away from poetry during their reign!

Let’s look at what happened, shall we?

The little magazines of the modernists had tiny audiences.

The “moderns” enjoyed a small window of notoriety after World War II, when the New Critical modernists insinuated themselves into ‘English major’ textbook anthologies.

The ‘English major,’ however, is fast becoming extinct in the university, replaced by Business majors, mostly.

The “moderns” had a brief, artificial existence—which is now dying.

There is no “legacy.”

Every age has some good poets; granted.  But this is quite different from “betraying” a previous era’s “legacy.”

First:  As everyone knows, the “legacy” of the “moderns” is a vigorous and explicit betrayal of their prior eras.   So obviously one has to “betray” the “modernists.”   One can’t have one’s cake and eat it.

Second:  Very few (their friends) read the “moderns” until they were put into school textbooks.   Now, the new poetry today is only being read in school.   The idea, then, of a “betrayal” could only be understood by a New Critical, ‘close-reading’ comparison of “modernist” poetry with today’s poetry.  Obviously, one wouldn’t expect poets writing today to write just like William Carlos Williams; if one felt ‘William Carlos Williams influence’ were necessary to avoid “betrayal,” it would be highly quixotic to even ask for such a thing, much less make any attempt to prove some sort of “betrayal” of that “legacy” because WC Williams was not being followed closely enough.  Why not ask whether the “legacy” of Chinese poetry, or that of the Provencals or the Romantics, or the Greeks, has been “betrayed?”

Yet, the “moderns,” of whom no one reads, and who are no longer modern and whom “betraying” might just be profitable; the moderns, that small group of gentlemen, are held over our heads, with great ceremony and solemnity.

If we keep asserting this “legacy,” based on what is now fusty, fussy writing that failed to catch on with the public, how are we going to see clearly or make any reliable judgment on this matter at all?

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