Vivian Gornick attacks Donald Hall, Nick Flynn, and August Kleinzahler for doing in their memoirs “what none of these writers would do if he was writing a poem: they stop short of creating the narrator whose presence makes the work larger than the sum of its parts” [“It’s All in the Art,” May 2005]. Here she’s off the mark, because a poem need not have a narrator per se. The range of compositional options and obligations for poets is not identical to those of prose writers. A poem may have a narrator, a speaker (or speakers), or neither.
While the Pritchett quote is indeed a well-chosen delight, Gornick’s conclusion (“The rules, he thought, for all forms of writing, were the same”) is clearly both true and not. There are real reasons for the existence of a variety of literary genres, and, even in this era of genre blurring, the unique freedom of the poet remains uniquely vast.
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