Letter from Poetry Magazine

Letter to the Editor

by Steven Cramer
Dear Editor,

As one who needs poetry, I must disagree with August Kleinzahler's reading of the famous passage from William Carlos Williams's "Asphodel, that Greeny Flower": "men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there." His dismissal of these lines as "simply untrue"—which bolsters his assertion (indisputable) that "ninety percent of Americans can pass through life tolerably well . . . without having a poem read to them"—misconstrues Williams's claim as a redundancy: what is found in poems is, well, poetry. Williams valued the matter-of-fact but rarely betrayed a weakness for the nobrainer.

What both passage and poem make plain is to be found in poetry—the absence of which leaves men and woman to die—Christian Wiman's editorial describes eleven pages earlier: "[t]he greatest power of poetry . . . at this particular moment in history, may be simply [the] act of preserving some aspect of truly individual consciousness in a culture bent on obliterating it." In his comments on Albert Ayler's music, Kleinzahler himself implies that aesthetic truth-telling serves a social function: "It would never have crossed [Ayler's] mind musically to be ingratiating or reassuring, or polite. Nor should it have done. That is not what music or poetry is for, especially in times like these [my italics]."

Lexington, Massachusetts

Originally Published: October 30, 2005

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This prose originally appeared in the May 2004 issue of Poetry magazine

May 2004
 Steven  Cramer


Steven Cramer was born in Orange, New Jersey, and educated at Antioch College and the University of Iowa. His collections of poetry include The Eye that Desires to Look Upward (1987); The World Book (1992); Dialogue for the Left and Right Hand (1997); Goodbye to the Orchard (2004), which won the 2005 Sheila Motton Prize and was named an Honor Book in Poetry by the Massachusetts Center for the Book; and Clangings (2012), a . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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