Letter from Poetry Magazine

Letter to the Editor

by Joshua Weiner
Dear Editor,

D.H. Tracy writes with style, and I've enjoyed reading his criticism for its wit and seriousness of intent. His review of Claudia Rankine's book, Don't Let Me Be Lonely (“Ten Takes,” March 2005) disappointed, however, as it fastened its teeth on matters that seem considerably beside the point. Criticizing the book for how Rankine uses whole pages for section breaks is rather like measuring the white space in Mallarmé with calipers, and complaining about the total relative to text: it's the critic's will-to-be-distracted as supposed evidence of the work's inherent aesthetic weakness; the only weakness here, however, is the critic's, for indulging a false notion. By asking the rhetorical question of why Rankine simply doesn't turn off her television in order to put an end to her mass media malaise, he suggests she watches TV opportunistically as it provides her with a miserable subject. Such cynicism precludes entertaining the book on its own terms—on any of its own terms; it's as a convenient maneuver to avoid thinking about what the poet is trying to achieve.

In any case, Tracy's suggestion that Rankine is voyeuristically trauma-slumming is unjust: the poet is involved at every moment in a struggle to regain some ground for authentic being. The book clearly annoys Tracy to no end, a sure sign of which is the vigor he musters to attack ... the notes—in other words, the book's secondary textual matter. This is the last resort of an academic pedant. He would have preferred they be sprinkled in the body of the work, preferably on the section-marker pages, rather than appear as endnotes: he really hates those empty pages, it seems. Is this really passing for serious criticism?

One of the reasons I'm interested in Rankine's work is that she by turns corroborates and challenges my notions about poetry—what it is, how it sounds, what it's for, how to write it. She keeps me from taking things for granted. I thought I could take for granted a certain standard of response in Tracy's criticism, but this time I was wrong.

Washington, DC

Originally Published: October 30, 2005

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This prose originally appeared in the May 2005 issue of Poetry magazine

May 2005


 Joshua  Weiner


Joshua Weiner was born in Boston and grew up in central New Jersey. He is the author of three books of poems, The World’s Room (2001) and From the Book of Giants (2006), and The Figure of a Man Being Swallowed by a Fish (2013).Weiner earned a BA from Northwestern University and a PhD from University of California, Berkeley. 

He is the poetry editor of Tikkun magazine and is also the editor of At the Barriers: On the Poetry of . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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