Sunday, March 29, 2009

And now for something completely diffident

So William Logan, whom I have heard described alternately as the most hated man in poetry in America and the most dangerous poetry critic not dead (Gosh, danger! In poetry!) has some thoughts. I was unaware that Hart Crane’s father invented the Lifesaver candy, and that Louise Gl├╝ck’s father invented the X-Acto knife. It seems that most bloggers are prone to writing that they had bacon and frog’s legs and those miniature Tibetan pears for breakfast. Frank O-Hara also apparently narrowly missed having everything that went into his poems drain into his blog and stay there, like sewage. And be forewarned that Mr. Logan has the capacity to beat your effing brains out if you use certain words around him, so perhaps the steel cage match with Mr. Wright might come about after all. Certain recommendations are advanced (every award should be replaced with a saguaro cactus) and some depressing statistics deployed (you can only find one buyer of a given book of new poetry per 5 football stadiums, and only one person who has actually finished the book for every 40 stadiums). In short, enough maxims, axioms, and trash-talking for everyone. So writing negative reviews is not just its own reward.

I tried to think of some other prominent figure who wrote negative poetry reviews, and came up short. Had quite an extended conversation over the ethics of writing/not writing them, and whether or not it was comparable to writing negative theatre reviews (which are themselves in short supply, I find, at least in Boston). The central argument advanced was that writing harsh theatre criticism endangers theatre itself, given the enormous effort, time, and capital invested in a production, whereas poetry will continue to be produced regardless of, um, an actual audience (as poets themselves sometimes effectively bankroll the production).

Is silence about bad books of poetry enough? I know some poets who engage in the sport of trying to read between the lines of blurbs on the backs of poetry books in order to divine the weaknesses of the book. (A friend of mine who did music reviews in bulk employed a similar strategy when he encoded subtle negative criticism into an ostensibly positive review of a record, so that alert readers would be able to tell if he was truly recommending it or not). One poetry professor I know wrote a negative review, and the poet in question wrote him angry letters and even called him. Then got his friends and colleagues to call/write on his behalf. Eventually, no literary magazine in the state would publish him, which would seem to suggest that perhaps the poetry world is not properly inoculated against such behavior.

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