In his otherwise illuminating review of two poetics anthologies, Adam Kirsch bizarrely concludes that criticism can aid our new century's poetry by helping it to "break free from the post-romantic dialectic that obsessed poetry in the twentieth century," the historical dialectic which led to our current horror: the "madhouse" and "babel" that "has not produced major poetry."
Kirsch is obviously simply presenting his own tastes here. Never mind whether there even is a teleology to the history of poetry or if it can be influenced: the essay's grand trace of theoretical evolution amounts to a wish to turn back the clock. By the essay's final paragraphs, old-timey Hardy, Frost, Moore, Larkin, and Lowell are praised as the good guys, relatively newer John Ashbery and Jorie Graham are cast as usual suspects, heralds of an apocalypse.
To think about a style will never make a style.
Understanding poetics, inventing poetics, writing poetics, etc., will never yield a poem, never mind the "great" poem. If there's anything that will help poetry, it will be to break free of criticism that formulates a poetics even before its poetry is written, that offers artificial solutions to confabulated problems. Kirsch's course of treatment for the supposed ruin of our poetic culture is to embrace what he terms "the pragmatic tradition of Aristotle," a poetics that nebulously values "accurate and subtle knowledge of the world and human life." What poetry, of any supposed poetics, doesn't aspire to such qualities?
Charleston, South Carolina