Wednesday, October 06, 2004

A few thoughts regarding the conversation regarding Poetry, the most recent utterance of (that I know of so far) is here:

When I was at NYU, an English professor (I feel terrible that I forget his name) died, and all his old journals were put on a rolling bookshelf for us grad students to take, if we wanted them. The guy who told me got all the old Dials, but I was still pretty early, and grabbed a bunch of old Poetrys (in hindsight I wish I’d taken more, but I was being nice to those on their way) and I have to agree with Josh Corey, that Rago as an editor did manifest a genuine openminded and inclusive publication. Frankly, the issues feel suffused with a curiosity, almost impatient to gulp through itself to the next month.

That said, I think such a thing was easier (not, though, easy) then,* and perhaps a sharp-elbowedness is a) the first clearing-out, opening step of Wiman to clear out the old before he can engage more positively/inclusively with what he can bring as an editor; and b) (really an extension of a) an attempt to clear away the Parisi-sense of uniformity (the clever way he arranged the poems to ‘link’ in a chain, thematically, always felt dismissive of the poems, like a Count playing chess with his peasants as the pieces; and not that he only picked sleepers, but he did those too) to bring to his pages the individuality-within-a-community which necessitates contentiousness, a la Spicer. Again, that this impulse, manifest in the editorial decisions behind the letters-to-the-editor and the “Antagonisms” sessions, is part of the project, not the realization yet of (the poetry selections so far have been, from what I’ve read, more varied). He is making it new, editorially speaking, and such work famously involves some acts of destruction. So this is sort of a channeling of an adolescent spirit. Again, this is kind of a ‘meta’ sense of where these energies are coming from, to be expressed as they are being.

As far as Logan goes, there is the feeling regarding his criticism that it is petty, and personal. Only in his dreams does Bush orate like Churchill, and so it is with Logan and Jarrell. Jarrell was, as his primary critical characteristic, accurate. Logan is, as his primary critical characteristic, cruel. He disregards any worth a poet may have in his glee at correcting them for what he obviously feels they should be ashamed of. It is this superiority he affects which lead me and, apparently, others, to look at his poetry and see that that which he misses in his criticism is that which he lacks in his poetry—he can’t see what is good about too much that his poetry needs (like a pulse. sorry.).

That is, unlike so many of the best poet-critics who are not such great poets, his poetry is the obvious end result of his criticism, and this not only devalues his criticism but exposes the fear which must drive it. This is, I want to say, not true of all his modes, but one which does seem to be becoming more pure and unaffected by a forgiving (that is, human-eyed) sense of relationship with what he reads. Not too open to newness. I mean, if he can’t see that what’s good about Hopkins is more than worth the struggle he ridicules, he’s not willing to go very far for his art, is my feeling. Call me opinionated.

That said, I still go out of my way to read his reviews because when he does score, it is wonderful and necessary. But he used to more; it seems to me (and I say that understanding the change may be mine not his) in the last few years he’s had less fun and more bile, less accuracy and more gratuitously mean commentary.

I apologize to Mr. Logan for what I’ve said, he may be a wonderful person and I may miss the wonder of his poems; but he doesn’t pull back from saying what he sees, and this is how his sight seems to me. Maybe I’ll feel different tomorrow.

*the familiar criticism of now as fragmented, fragmented being a different thing from varied. Perhaps all nows are so, not just this one, and all thens, are so, too, not just that one. I have only one perspective.

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