Letter to the Editor

by Amit Majmudar

Dear Editor,

Joshua Mehigan’s anatomy of dullness [“Make Make It New New,” March 2013] is pretty accurate, in its details; what it lacks is perspective. Maybe reading “thousands of pages of new, unpublished 
poetry,” which sounds less like a “project” than something they make you do at a cia black site, is precisely what you should avoid before considering a poetic age. The majority of any era’s poetry, what posterity, with the uncharitable coldness of posterity, dismisses as dross, works a handful of techniques and effects to death. In 1913 most dross sounded like bad Tennyson, just as in 2013 most dross sounds like bad Ashbery. (Bad Ashbery being, in my experience, the same thing as Ashbery.) In our time, this natural phenomenon may be a little exaggerated, thanks to our peculiar system of sending each generation of poets to school to learn from the generation immediately 
preceding its own; the most easily imitable tendencies, the glibness, the nonsequiturs, et cetera, are seized on just as pre-Modernist English poets seized on the abab quatrain and Guinevere or whatever. But it doesn’t change the fact that America, at this point in time, has a crowd of major poets who don’t match this description, the 
talented Mehigan among them. No poetic moment is remembered, or judged, by its dross. And Pound has less to do with ours than we would think; the Modernist “revolution” was less a matter of versecraft than a massive expansion of cultural memory and historical 
reference: hence the introduction of Chinese, Sanskrit, Provençal, and a host of underrecognized traditions in Eliot and Pound alone (not to mention a surge of interest in forgotten aspects of the Western classical tradition; Pound has an homage to Sextus Propertius, too). That was the other Modernist contribution to this art, and if you consider the short historical memory, and somewhat narrow cultural focus, of contemporary American poets and critics, both the golden and the drossy, you will see we are less the heirs of the Modernists than of those other empire-builders, the Victorians.

Originally Published: May 1, 2013

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This prose originally appeared in the May 2013 issue of Poetry magazine

May 2013

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Biography

The son of immigrants, poet and novelist Amit Majmudar grew up in the Cleveland area. He earned a BS at the University of Akron and an MD at Northeast Ohio Medical University, completing his medical residency at the University Hospitals of Cleveland.
 
In his precise, often formally driven poems, Majmudar explores themes of identity, history, spiritual faith, and mortality. In an interview with the Kenyon Review, Majmudar . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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