As a young poet and poetry lover, I find August Kleinzahler's criticisms wholly unhelpfulmost of all because he says virtually nothing specific about the book. I walk away from his essay unable to name a single piece in the collection, only a handful of the poets, and knowing even less about Kleinzahler's poetic likes and dislikes.
Why are poems that can be absorbed and appreciated while "frying eggs and sausage" bound to be "mostly shit?" Why is poetry about "reassurance, containment, and continuity" of no value to us? And why lament the "economic forces" poised to further devastate any "vital literary culture" without noting the immediately obvious, hopeful signs: your essay is being read by a large and very engaged audience, while (according to POETRY's guidelines) earning you $1,050 an unheard-of sum for a poetry review, made possible by a staggering and much-publicized endowment. It is precisely this kind of solipsistic thinking that is so damaging to poetry. We put up sculptures in the subway to glorify and rescue the downtrodden subway platform. We put poems there to glorify and rescue poetry.
Yet I willingly admit: I "enjoyed" reading Kleinzahler's diatribe far more than I did Gioia's well-tempered, more elucidating reviewthe first time, at least. Perhaps this outs me as precisely the mass-culture drone Kleinzahler scorns, more able to appreciate Britney Spears "wiggling her behind" than Moby Dick; because his article is every bit as easy and Pavlovian as a wiggling behind. It is largely a series of oneliners a State of the Union address, meant to cue standing ovations from self-loathing professors and unpublished poets on both sides of the aisle.
Garrison Keillor has gone out on a limb in support of something Kleinzahler obviously can't stand. If it's a thin, weak limb and detrimental to the health of contemporary poetry, a poet-critic with Kleinzahler's gifts should have no problem swiftly chopping it down. But he'd rather tie a noose from itfor himself and all the other "better animals of the jungle."
Livingston, New Jersey