Letter from Poetry Magazine

Letter to the Editor

by R. S. Gwynn
Dear Editor,

I am a reviewer who has handed down a fair share of pans; thus, I am probably the last person who should complain about the curt dismissals which Brian Phillips dishes out in his omnibus review of ten books ("Ten Takes," February 2005). But as one who has written—in a very different vein, to be sure—about two of these books and is currently working on a review of a third, I feel compelled to protest. Ted Kooser has probably grown a thick enough hide to weather the condescension that routinely greets his Nebraska-based poems, but to find even more condescension lurking behind a mask equivocating about how Kooser's success "has as much to do with the way his work has been received by critics as with the work itself" has surely introduced us all to a new wrinkle in the art of bushwhacking. If David Mason is an "uneven" poet, much of the blame must fall on narrative poems like "The Country I Remember" and "The Collector's Tale," which cast, by virtue of their ambition and accomplishment, the shorter lyrics in their long shade. To quote five lines from the "The Collector's Tale," a poem of almost two hundred lines, and accuse Mason of "calm literariness" because his "drunken, half-Indian murderer" has apparently read The Great Gatsby seems odd indeed coming from a critic who says of his own origins, "I grew up in Oklahoma, where we also had the Internet." And to use one poet who works in form as a stick to beat New Formalists in general (which is the case in Phillips's review of Catherine Tufariello's Keeping My Name) is a tactic that has outlived a usefulness it never had in the first place. Phillips quotes a total of four lines by Tufariello as damning examples of "the absurd quaintness of contemporary life slipped too blithely into iambs." If he plans to extend the same courtesy to, say, Richard Wilbur, I do hope that he will provide more extensive evidence. His self-congratulatory metaphor likening Tufariello's hard-earned command of craft (her first book appeared in her forties) to how "girls in finishing schools used to learn posture by walking with books on their heads" is so smugly patronizing and sexist that it deserves no further comment.

Beaumont, Texas

Originally Published: October 30, 2005

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

April 2005
 R. S. Gwynn


Poet, scholar, editor, and critic R.S. Gwynn was born in Eden, North Carolina. He received a BA from Davidson College, where he twice won the Vereen Bell Award for Creative Writing, and he earned both an MA and an MFA from the University of Arkansas, where he won the John Gould Fletcher Award for Poetry. Gwynn has also won the Michael Braude Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Gwynn is the author of several . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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