I keep thinking about a statement you made in a recent issue that all important literary movements were started by the young ["editorial," September 2005.] This was a response to the attacks on some of the critical essays published recently in Poetry. You're right about this, but it also seems to me that the landmark essays from the past were always written to justify a revolution that had already taken place in the art itself, to assert or explain the value of a new practice, as opposed to attacking someone else's practice. The major essays of Aristotle, Sidney, Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Eliot all fall into this category. Even Whitman's introduction to Leaves of Grass was written after the poems.
Pound's essays attempting to explain the Imagist poems already published in Poetry have had a far more lasting impact than his often nasty attacks on his predecessors. We're still being influenced by Bly's work as a translator, anthologist, and poet, while the harsh reviews of Robert Lowell that Bly wrote as a young man have been largely forgotten. "Howl" did more to change poetry in the fifties than anything Ginsberg or anyone else said or wrote about it after its publication. The pattern is the one Eliot pointed out: it's the really new work that alters the landscape.
Every significant artist in the history of every art was one who was dissatisfied with the dominant art of that time. They were significant not because they pointed out others' shortcomings (even if they did), but because they strove to discover through their art itself what that art might be capable of. The really revolutionary work was often so new that it was eviscerated by the critics. We read the attacks on Keats, for example, and are shocked at how vicious and wrong-headed they were. The pattern, historically, is that the critical essays that have any lasting impact are almost never those with a predominantly negative focus, which in retrospect often appear to be written by individuals incapable of understanding, or unwilling to acknowledge, the accomplishments of their contemporaries. The essays that matter in the history of art are more often written to defend the new against attack.
This certainly doesn't justify logrolling, which you are to be congratulated for fighting against. One of the beauties of contemporary American poetry is that there is no single dominant school, that we have, instead, what Adrienne Rich describes as "American poetries." I'd like to read essays that are creative attempts by members of one of these "poetries" to actually understand and appreciate the work by poets from another. I'd like to see critical essays in which the author is actually critical of his or her own assumptions. The best poems, it seems to me, also come out of a similar impulse: the artists who revolt against a dominant convention almost always imitate it first.