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