ELIOT WEINBERGER, ANOTHER CONVERT TO FOETRY

By the time Alan Cordle and friends closed down Foetry.com in 2007, Cordle’s now famous website had managed to enrage a good number of distinguished poets, editors, professors, and critics.  But the tide is turning; the truth is finally counting more than personal bitterness.

The following quote by Eliot Weinberger comes by way of a Spanish newspaper on “a crisis in worldwide literary criticism:”

The United States does not have the kinds of literary supplements that are common in Spain and many other countries. It has only one important frequent periodical of criticism–The New York Review of Books. There are no longer powerful American critics, as there were until the 1960s, writing in a prose that was intelligible to anyone, and inserting literature into the political, social, and moral issues of the day. So-called “serious” criticism has largely become the domain of academics, who write in a specialized jargon, under the bizarre belief that complex thought can only be presented in impenetrable sentences… Criticism, in the United States, has been reduced to “recommendations,” which come via reviews, blogs, and Twitter. Prizes have become the standard validation of literary merit–especially among those who are unaware how prizes are chosen. I can’t think of a single American critic to whom one now turns for ideas…

Foetry.com could not have put it better, or more bluntly: “Prizes have become the standard of validation of literary merit—especially among those who are unaware of how prizes are chosen.”  This speaks volumes.  Every sorry part contributes to the whole: “Criticism…has been reduced to ‘recommendations’ because “prizes have become the standard” and because there is a “belief that complex thought can only be presented in impenetrable sentences,” it follows “there are no longer powerful American critics,” and hence, “criticism has…become the domain of academics” and the historical record will show that the whole shameful Prize Apparatus came into existence in the 1940s, when the professor and the poet became the same animal, thanks to Paul Engle’s work at Iowa.

Engle was surely well-meaning when he said, ‘Why can’t a master’s thesis be a book of poetry?’  Unfortunately, this idea, which on the face of it, appeared to help poetry, essentially killed it.

Why?

Because unfortunately poetry reputations are made by humans, not the Muses.  The system—now in place for about 75 years—in which living poets are able to make their own reputations, has resulted in nothing but folly.  John Crowe Ransom became the most powerful editor, poet, and critic in the mid-20th century precisely because he was the leader, with a few of his Fugitive cronies, of the invasion of contemporary poetry into the academy.

Weinberger makes it clear: the public is out of the picture; poetry prizes are a fait accompli, and “recommendations” (puffing) has replaced Criticism.

Poe warned us about this, and look what happened to him.

What can you do?

Read Scarriet.

We’ll fix this.

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3 Comments

  1. December 1, 2011 at 4:34 pm

    “I can’t think of a single American critic to whom one now turns for ideas…”

    Ooh ooh, I can: I do solemnly feel
    That for interesting ideas
    I can turn to Camille.

    But where did she go?
    The last that I heard,
    She was down in Brazil
    In an entourage herd

    Of a Latina rock star —
    And though it’s no dishonor,
    It did seem Paglia followed
    ’cause she had a crush on her.

  2. marcusbales said,

    December 3, 2011 at 4:39 am

    http://lareviewofbooks.org/post/13499728771/on-not-rolling-the-log

    “Recently, I spoke to a group of MFA students at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. I wanted to pass along the best advice I got in my own MFA program 15 years ago. Our professor Wilton Barnhart had said, ‘cultivate literary friendships’.

    It was almost a koan in its three-word simplicity. He meant us to sift through what that verb, that adjective and that noun might mean to us. He did not add a clause that I now wish he had: ‘and for Christ’s sake, do not let them become transactional’…. “

  3. tom said,

    December 12, 2011 at 10:38 am

    “Poe warned us of this.”

    I’d like to submit my mechanical laughter here : ha. ha. ha.

    Satan says that art school is 4-ever. Have you heard about this?

    The last time someone was trying to rape me I kept explaining to them about the good and Plato, but it was really weird because they didn’t listen.


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