Monday, February 23, 2009

To David Orr, RE: "The Great(ness) Game" in the NYT Book Review, 2/22/09

I would have loved to have substituted you as author of this article, David, with someone like Anthony Lane. In other words, someone who would enjoy poking fun at an establishment that openly frets at its potential "greatness", instead of asserting that "poetry needs greatness" and then defining "greatness" in large part as a costume party, as you do in this essay, without so much as a wink. No one in our community but you I think has a conception of Elizabeth Bishop as anything other than capital G "Great." And "Great" defined as: she left behind a fairly thick collection of Great poems. The rest of us, David, have left behind the other ridiculous boys-club criteria--hence why those of us who never met Robert Lowell are underwhelmed by everything he did after "Life Studies." Are we still an undemocratic "guild"? Absolutely. Do we still tend to favor interesting biographical notes over the work itself? Of course, and even more reason to write a satirical piece about us, from someone very much on the inside, instead of making yourself sound ridiculous by asserting that if "you simply look back and forth fast enough between [Lowell and Bishop] while squinting, it's possible to see a single Great Poet staring back at you." Is there any irony in that assertion? I hope so, but as someone who loves and appreciates irony, I wasn't getting a very strong reading.

And even worse, this article ends in some kind of "boo hoo" about contemporary American poets lionizing foreign poets. In the words of Seth Meyer, "Really, David?" That's what keeps you up at night vis-a-vis American poetry? That we worship foreign language poets too much? Really? That's our problem?

And what is this obsession of American poets to fix American poetry? Am I the only one who doesn't think it's broken?

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