Sunday, January 30, 2005

Unsurprisingly, I agree with most everyone else that Richard Tayson's post over at is right well chowderheaded. Despite all its universalizing gestures and overtures, Whitman's preface speak to his particular historical and geographical moment, and to continue to look to it for dicta about how to write a poem in the 21st century is to misread him both in spirit and letter: "You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me. . . ." For precisely the reasons Whitmans enunciates in his preface, formulaic poetry will always seem pernicious--regardless of whatever philosophical system you can attach it to. Sharon Olds--who is neither a terrible poet nor a great poet, I enjoy some of her poems--isn't all that original intellectually or formally, since she's a derivation of the much more capacious work of Lowell and Plath. But the same can--and should-- be said of a good number of langpo or avant or post-avant writers. I've never read anything by Leslie Scalapino that I cared for, but I'm sure she has some good poems.

As for Vendler's remarks about the paucity of major thirty-something poets, I'm of the mind that age matters much less than page count. More often than not, it's a poet's second or third book that establishes their lasting value, although there are certainly some writers whose first books were tremendous. Anne Carson is, to my mind, a major poet who has done most of her work in the last decade. Although I'd be interested in her life story, from the standpoint of "major writing" I don't really care all that much how old she is. I care how old her poems are in relation to the relative ages of other poems.

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