Letter from Poetry Magazine

Dan Chiasson responds

by Dan Chiasson
Dan Chiasson responds:

Does Jonathan Blake really think that a fine poem could celebrate “our capability for joy” despite others’ suffering? What a mean little idea! To my mind, Gilbert’s gravity stems from acknowledgment of, in Eliot’s words, a “thing ill done and done to others’ harm.” I wasn’t being “sarcastic” when I praised Gilbert’s provocative adjacencies: it’s a great pleasure to read poems so unsparing in their remorse. My review was mostly positive, though Gilbert’s fans apparently expect hagiography.

I was happy to provide Todd Hearon with a chance to display his erudition, though actually it was Keats I quoted in my review, not Yeats. I mean no offense to Anacreon (or Hermes or the tortoise who gave his life for the lyre) by suggesting that the word “musical” does not conjure the deep analogies between poetry and music described by Hearon (nor did I mean to dismiss those analogies). “Musical” means a poem with a lot of mellifluous effects, probably one in regular meter, probably pentameter. I wish I didn’t connect that kind of contemporary writing with intellectual murkiness, bombast, pomposity, sentimentality, etc.; but Walcott’s example, among several others, makes it hard not to do so.
Originally Published: October 30, 2005

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 Dan  Chiasson


Poet and critic Dan Chiasson is author of three books of poetry: The Afterlife of Objects (2002), Natural History (2005), and Where's the Moon, There's the Moon (2010). A book of criticism, One Kind of Everything: Poem and Person in Contemporary America, was published in 2006. He reviews poetry regularly for the New Yorker and the New York Times Book Review. He has received the Whiting Writers' Award, a Pushcart Prize, and a . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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