Esteemed poetry professors across the country are taking a stand.  We have a breaking story from The Permanent Poetry Institute where a conference has been quickly organized to protest what university officials are calling, “an insult to poetry, run by amateurs.”

Let’s go live to an official who is reading a paper by Wimsatt and Beardsley, we believe, called “The Affective Fallacy…”

Let’s listen in…

“We believe ourselves to be exploring two roads—”

“Final Four!”

“—which have seemed to offer convenient detours around the acknowledged and usually feared obstacles to objective criticism—”

[crowd in back] “JA-NET! JA-NET!”

“Order!  Order, I say!  You people need to listen!   Thank you.  Where was I?  Oh, yes…we are exploring two roads which have seemed to offer convenient detours around the acknowledged and usually feared obstacles to objective criticism, both of which, however have actually led away from criticism and poetry.   The Intentional Fallacy is a confusion between the poem and its origins—”

“SIXTEENTH SEED!” [Laughter]

“—a special case of what is known to philosophers as the Genetic Fallacy.”


“Will you please!”   Thank you!  This fallacy begins by trying to derive the standard of criticism from the psychological causes of the poem and ends in biography—


“Silence!    …biography and relativism.  The Affective Fallacy is a confusion between the poem and its results—“

“FINAL FOUR!!!!” [Laugher, Clapping]

“…a confusion between the poem and its results (what it is and what it does),
a special case of epistemological skepticism, though usually advanced as if it had far stronger claims—


“—than the over-all forms of skepticism.  It [this fallacy] begins by trying to derive the standard of criticism form the psychological effects of the poem—”


“—and ends in impressionism—THROW THEM OUT, PLEASE—and relativism.   Is Ms. Bowdan gone?  Good.   To continue…The outcome of either Fallacy, the Intentional or the Affective, is that the poem itself, as an object of specifically critical judgment, tends to disappear.”

[Dignified pause.]

“Plato’s feeding and watering of the passions was an early example of affective theory, and Aristotle’s countertheory of catharsis was another.  There was also the ‘transport’ of the audience—”

Marla, are you there?  We seem to have lost transmission…I hope nothing has happened…


  1. Bob Tonucci said,

    April 1, 2010 at 12:47 am

    Tom, Marla Muse in the midst of the craziness going on outside, we have two protests going on, those representing the academic poetry professors and those representing the average reader. There are signs everywhere, some of them quite impassioned.

    What do they say, Marla?

    Tom, there’s one that says “IT TAKES A VILLAGE OF PhDs TO RAISE A POET” – another says “THE MASSES ARE ASSES”, another says “POETRY IS A SCIENCE TOO”.

    How about the other group, Marla, what are some of their signs?

    One says “AMATEURS FOR POETRY”, another says “YEAH, THANKS, I CAN READ IT MYSELF”, and another says “IF YOU CAN READ THIS, DON’T THANK A PhD”.

    Wow, that’s pretty nasty stuff.

    Tom, I haven’t seen anything like it since America in the sixties – the 1860s! Of course I was very young then…

    You’re eternally young, Marla.

    Tom, I haven’t seen such hatred in a long time. Apparently poetry is as hot an issue as other culture war issues we’re accustomed to see people fighting about.

    Why do you think that is, Marla?

    Tom, poetry is something that everyone has a stake in. Writing a poem is often one of the first artistic things children do. It’s a natural exercise for humans, and because it belongs to everyone, people take it personally when it is hijacked by impersonal forces, whether the government, or the academy, or corporations. One woman was screaming, “This isn’t science, this is the humanities!” But to get government money, poetry has to masquerade as a public need requiring government funding and guided by experts – as if poetry would wither and die without it.

    Fascinating, Marla, thanks so much and stay safe out there. And let’s pause for a station break, brought to you by the National Endowment for the Arts….

  2. thomasbrady said,

    April 1, 2010 at 1:39 am

    Marla, no one wants to be thought of as an “average” reader, but no one would dare proclaim oneself an exceptional reader, either; the only way for the latter to exist, in any objective sense, is if some system or institution of credentialing and rewards is formed. Many “average” (or gullible) readers exist, and to appeal to them, to be a popular author, one needs only be slightly above, or even merely average, oneself. So average readers is all any author really needs; the trained reader does no one any good except to make nasty criticisms of famous and popular authors who appeal to many average readers. The exceptional reader may just be a pompous fraud; how do we know an exceptional reader when we see one? We know what an exceptional author is—one who sells many books, to average readers, obviously. But how does an exceptional reader prove himself? The whole thing is quite impossible. The exceptional reader is useless, nasty, and cannot prove in any tangible way that he is exceptional—and yet this is what the university is supposed to do, produce the exceptional reader. It is a paradox, isn’t it? So the institution is created, the English department, the Humanities department, for the creation of the exceptional reader—who is a bore and useful to nobody! At least with the MFA writing programs, the idea is to train an author who can appeal to at least a modest number of average readers, and this is what all students want to go into today, the writing programs, not those 1950s style Departments of English, when writing programs hardly existed, were few and far between, Engle’s Iowa, Tate’s Princeton, Ransom’s Kenyon, Winters’ Stanford…The masses are asses and some of us ride them. There’s nothing exceptional about that.
    But there’s also a large desire not to be thought of as an “amateur.” Best-selling authors are rare, yet those with some sort of literary ambition number quite a few. Here’s where the battle is fought. Amateur v. Professional.

  3. thomasbrady said,

    April 1, 2010 at 3:39 am

    The affective fallacy, so-called, by which the New Critics attempted to muder the Romantics, was summed up this way: “We might as well study the properties of wine by getting drunk.” (Edward Hanslick)

    But March Madness has been a study as much as it has been an intoxication; the New Critics erred in thinking the emotive and the cognitive could not be combined; of course they can, by any astutue critic (Poe is a shining example, who the New Critics, from Pound to Eliot to Warren to Winters to Brooks to Wimsatt carefully ignored or played down.). The New Critics made no satisfactory criticism; they merely introduced mumbo-jumbo, mere terms, such as paradox, ambiguity, irony and symbol and nothing about it was original or coherent, it was finally nothing but mumbo-jumbo for the self-elected priesthood.

    The professional priest will lord it over the mere amateur, but such religious heirarchies do not belong in poetry, not artifically, anyway; Letters is not science, but finally morality for the many, and this is the ugly, primitive secret which the sophisticated modernist Oxford erudite fop dare not face.

    Even Pound confessed Letters was for the health of the many: “so is it [literature] durable and so is it ‘useful;’ I mean it maintains the precision and clarity of thought, not merely for the benefit of a few dilettantes and ‘lovers of literature,’ but maintains the health of thought outside literary circles and in non-literary existence, in general individual and communal life.” –How To Read Even the great crackpot crank himself was not stupid on this point.

    So in this spirit have we given the world March Madness. The four remaining poems by Bowdan, Collins, Kulik and Livingston, are highly moral in this sense: they all depict loss in a highly artistic manner; loss is the chief fact of life; poetry which depicts loss beautifully and imaginatively makes us stoic in the face of it and helps strength and pleasure combine in our souls; pardon the grotesquely simple explanation, but morality is not pretty; poetry’s use is to make it beautiful.

  4. thomasbrady said,

    April 1, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    Slam Officials also complained of Scarriet’s March Madness.

    “The Kennedy Center? It’s not poetry unless it’s being screamed in a bar in front of drunks,” one Slam Poetry official said.

    We object to this objection. Everyone at the Kennedy Center, including Garrison Keillor, was drunk.

  5. thomasbrady said,

    April 1, 2010 at 12:46 pm

    If we were asked to name criticism’s most important task, it would probably be this: Point to the best. Let the best lead the way. Be curators.

    The vanity of the New Critics is they sought to talk good poetry into existence. The New Critics, in the revolutionary spirit of the 1930s, sought to smash the museum existence of the English Departments and bring new theories and new readings to bear on a narrow selection of the old writing and upon the new writing, with the new writing following, unfortunately, the new theories, which were mostly rigamarole asking to be thought of as precise and scientific, but which were, in actuality, about as precise as a smokescreen, the utterances of a clique of tweedy men who thought to advance themselves as they slavishly followed a certain Oxford odor from I.A. Richards and T.S. Eliot. If one reads those famous New Critical essays, one finds a great deal of ‘let me present to you…’ which then fizzles out in a flurry of name-dropping of the same names, Winters, Eliot, Ransom, Tate, in other words, the right names.

    We would not be so strong in our affection for the curator spirit, for this idea of ‘pointing to the best’ if it were not a fact in history that the best—Bach, Shakespeare, Poe—is for long periods suppressed and ignored for various reasons. Which would we choose? A minor scholar giving us theories of music, or…Bach? If there are men who would, for their own advancement, bury Bach, or Shakespeare, or Poe…then here we must be vigilant, most vigilant, indeed. Point to the best.

    When we point to the best and allow the best to display itself, we are being the most useful of critics. Here is the lesson we have learned observing Letters over the last 100 years.

    March Madness allows a kind of ‘let’s see if the best is here’ look at the best. Most useful, we think, and we must always practice this sort of thing, we believe, if Letters is to advance.

  6. April 3, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    […] 3, 2010 at 12:15 pm (Uncategorized) March Madness has been a study as much as it has been an intoxication; the New Critics erred in thinking the […]

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