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A Few Thoughts on Poetry and Criticism
I adore Doug Powell as a poet and a person, but I must disagree with his recent post regarding poets and critics. It’s true that the skills required to be a poet and the skills required to be a critic are distinct, but they’re related, and to be a good writer one needs at least some of the skills of a good critic. (I also know from his writing that whatever Doug says about the divide, he has both.)
To be a good writer one needs to be a good reader, and a large part of learning to write is learning to read, to analyze (that is, take apart and examine) other pieces of writing and see how they work, if only so that one can utilize some of those techniques in one’s own work–and for that matter, so that one can avoid some of them as well. (One can learn a lot from work one doesn’t like.)
I’ve always aspired to be a poet-critic, being of the belief that at least as a poet one one can indeed add a cubit to one’s stature by taking thought. With the recent publication of my book of essay, Orpheus in the Bronx, I’d like to think that I’m come closer to that goal.
I can’t think of any good poets who have avoided thinking and writing about poetry and the issues it brought up. (We’ll take up the question of what a “good” poet is at a later date. Much later.) To take some obvious historical examples, Pound, Eliot, Moore, Stevens, Williams, Zukofsky, the New Critics (including R. P Blackmur, John Crowe Ransom, and Allen Tate, all fine poets), Auden, Spicer, and even Mr. Insouciance himself, Frank O’Hara, didn’t do so, not to mention such diverse contemporary examples as Charles Bernstein, Allen Grossman, Robert Hass, John Hollander, Susan Howe, Mary Kinzie, Ann Lauterbach, Heather McHugh, Michael Palmer, Robert Pinsky, Ron Silliman, and Susan Stewart. The explosion of online discussions about poetry, in poetry blogs, on this web site, and elsewhere, is evidence that this process is still going on today, and hopefully will continue to enrich poetry and thought about poetry.