Paul Valery (top), Polonius & T.S. Eliot

The last 100 years have seen more pedantry in poetry than in any other age.

Remember when poetry as a topic brought out the best in thinkers?

Socrates may be a villain to many poets, but Platonic arguments are grand, necessary, and…poetic.

Horace and Aristotle laid groundwork so vital we can overlook their pedantic natures.

Dante’s Vita Nuova is without the pretence of pedantry.

Shakespeare, another enemy of pedantry, made it a popular trope: Rozencrantz, Guildenstern, and Polonius in one play alone.

Pope and Swift fought pedantry as a natural impulse.

Burns, Byron, Keats, Shelley and Poe were against it in their souls.

Yeats, at his best, displayed a hatred of pedantry: “Old, learned respectable bald heads edit and annotate lines…”

These artists are practically defined by their opposition to pedantry.

Something went wrong in the 20th century, however, as Manifesto-ism became a way to get attention in a field of diminishing returns

Here’s Scarriet’s Top Ten Pedant List:

1. Yvor Winters

Claimed the formal is moral, while convincing himself that Allen Tate’s poetry was better than Shelley’s.

2.  Harold Bloom

A pedant’s pedant’s pedant.   Shakespeare’s great—OK, we get it.

3. Jacques Derrida

One part Nietszche, one part William James, one part Analytic Philosophy, one part New Criticism, one part absinthe.

4. Ezra Pound

“Make it new” is a very old pedantry.

5. Cleanth Brooks

Ransom and Warren kept him around to feel like geniuses by comparison.

6. T.S. Eliot

Hated Hamlet.   Afflicted with Dissociation of Verse Libre.

7. Allen Tate

Modernism’s Red-neck traveling salesman.

8. Helen Vendler

A drab sitting room with a Wallace Stevens poster.

9. Charles Bernstein

“Official Verse Culture” was in his own mind.

10. Paul Valery

Always too correct.  Proves the rule that Poe sounds better in French than modern French poetry sounds in English.

BONUS—11. Charles Olson

Take a deep breath.  And blow.

–T. Brady


  1. thomasbrady said,

    December 11, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    I have been asked privately about The New York School.

    Camp and farce are tricky, for the pedant who, by definition, is campy and farcical (to everyone but himself).

    The verbose farce of an Ashbery and the verbose pomposity of a pedant are sometimes divided by a very thin line.

    Pedantry can creep into the farcical.

    Someone should tell the “curator” Kenneth Goldsmith that Karen Finley is not much of a poet.

    T. Brady

  2. briggsseekins said,

    December 11, 2009 at 8:24 pm

    That “drab sitting room with a Wallace Stevens poster” is spit-take funny.

  3. Bob Tonucci said,

    April 14, 2010 at 12:27 am


    by Enoch Soames

    ‘Thou art, who hast not been!’
    Pale tunes irresolute
    And traceries of old sounds
    Blown from a rotten flute
    Mingle with noise of cymbals rouged with rust,
    Nor not strange forms and epicene
    Lie bleeding in the dust,
    Being wounded with wounds.

    For this it is
    That is thy counterpart
    Of age-long mockeries
    ‘Thou has not been nor art!’

  4. Bob Tonucci said,

    April 27, 2010 at 9:02 am

    23. Why Don’t We Kill Them Off and Be Done With It? (from “Send Bygraves”)

    By Martha Grimes

    Bobby and Bunch
    (The Honorable Smeel-Carruthers twins,
    And staples of the Puddley social scene)
    Are always turning up at lunch,
    Or at hunt breakfasts wearing hacking jackets,
    Or suddenly appearing on
    The terrace swinging tennis racquets.

    Bobby and Bunch
    (Brother and sister—they’ve the same
    Blue eyes and flaxen hair and ruddy cheeks)
    Say things like “Topping game!”
    Or “Stone the crows!” or “Sticky wicket!” or
    “I say, you ARE a brick!”
    Or else, “We’re off to London Wednesday week.”

    They drink a lot of sherry, tie their sweaters
    Around their necks and drive an open car.
    And when it rains they stay at Stubbings
    (The family seat), or else go slumming
    Down at the Bell. One never finds them far
    From moneyed uncles, cream teas, and croquet.
    Their hobby is brass rubbings.

    No matter what
    Garrotings, knifings, poisonings, or heads
    Stashed in hat boxes under beds
    Turn up, or torsos tossed in trunks,
    Walks running red with blood, air thick with menace—
    Bobby and Bunch
    Will unaccountably be playing tennis.

    Why must it be these two who find
    Lady Whitsun dead? Poor Billingsgate
    Is stuck with them: “Now, Mr. Smeel-Carruthers,
    And Miss—you didn’t touch
    Anything, did you?” “Heavens, no!”
    Says Bunch. “At least not much,”
    Says Bobby, “nothing but the letters—

    “We tossed those in the grate. And scrubbed the stain
    Out of the Axminster. And then the cup—
    You know—the tea things needed washing up
    Straightaway. I had some port and read
    A bit whilst Bunch was in the potting shed.”

    “The potting shed!”
    (Poor Billingsgate.) “What were you doing THERE?”
    “Just having a look round. There’s heaps
    Of arsenic and prussic acid, blood
    Splashed all about. And then the gardener—“
    “Gardener?” “Yes. Dressed in a queer old coat
    And balaclava. Well, he’s not our sort
    At all. Oh, Bobby, Bobby!
    Lord Whitsun’s got a smashing tennis court!”

  5. The Noochie-Coochie Man said,

    July 27, 2010 at 11:51 pm

    Immanuel Kant was a real pissant who was very rarely stable,
    Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozy beggar who could think you under the table,
    David Hume could out-consume Schopenhauer and Hegel,
    And Wittgenstein was a beery swine who was just as schloshed as Schlegel.
    There’s nothing Nietzsche couldn’t teach ya ’bout the turning of the wrist,
    Socrates himself was permanently pissed…

    John Stuart Mill, of his own free will, with half a pint of shandy was
    particularly ill,
    Plato, they say, could stick it away, half a crate of whiskey every day,
    Aristotle, Aristotle was a beggar for the bottle,
    Hobbes was fond of his dram,
    And Rene Descartes was a drunken fart, “I drink therefore I am.”
    Yes, Socrates himself is particularly missed;
    A lovely little thinker but a bugger when he’s pissed.

  6. Noochinator said,

    November 14, 2010 at 5:30 pm

    Four Letters from SPC Elycia Loveis Fine
    (Occupied Baghdad, May 2003)


    It’s hot. No matter the time,
    no matter my state

    of undress, sweat coats
    my scalp, knuckles, knee-

    creases, eyelids. The bathrooms
    are so revolting that,

    if possible, I wouldn’t defecate
    for the rest of my life. Even

    if the pain ensured a slow death.
    I put on my uniform, the gas mask,

    the Kevlar helmet, two flak vests,
    rubber boots, carry my rifle

    down three flights, then fifty
    yards out, just for the pleasure

    of relieving my bladder. Fuck beds,
    fuck steak; fuck movie

    theaters and buttered popcorn.
    I just want to flush a toilet.


    Iraqi air is diseased—not like Ebola-diseased,
    but there are things in the air our fragile American
    immune systems aren’t used to.

    I woke one night certain I was dying.
    The medics administered two bags
    of rehydration to combat the nausea.

    I slept fifteen hours straight. Goetz photographed me
    when I was well, on a seized palace’s veranda.
    Behind me, trees bloomed purple in the heat.

    It isn’t bad enough that Iraq makes me smelly
    and angry, but it has to make me sexually
    deprived too. One step at a time.

    Now I just need to work on my road rage.
    Tell your mom she’s a dirty whore.


    I sprout a new dreadlock
    every five minutes and my soul

    keeps trying to run away.
    I’m lucky my soul isn’t very smart.

    Usually I capture it before
    it can cross the borders

    of this fallen city. James, Baghdad
    is beautiful at night.


    I’ve changed, and now my friends won’t know me.
    Last week I was an infantry squad member.
    The mission: secure the banks.

    Goetz pretended I was vital. I wasn’t.
    I just really wanted to go. We got lost
    in the downtown marketplace throng.

    My job: watch for rooftop gunmen.
    It was like Mardi Gras, with fewer beads
    and boobs. It’s scary

    how I no longer find a donkey pulling a cart
    along a busy street foreign. Did you know
    the Arabic for thief is ali baba? No lie.

    While downtown, this kid driving a bus
    kept licking his eleven-year-old lips at me.
    I pointed my gun. I think he shit his pants.

    Send more letters. Don’t leave out the details
    of your sex life. Please, no more tootsie rolls.
    You must understand. I’m living through you.

    James Allen Hall

  7. September 14, 2011 at 6:46 am

    self congratulatory to the max

    pretty boring too

    let’s pee on the past doesn’t give us much if anything

    I like the pictures of the old dead poets

    • thomasbrady said,

      September 14, 2011 at 4:00 pm


      The historian loves the past, but the poet is under no such obligation.

      Anyway, I’m not peeing on the past. The list features the recent past.


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