I'm grateful to Brian Phillips for his smart and provocative essay on the alleged withering away of "taste," a term into which he neatly folds both the poetry culture's confidence in its own aesthetic judgments and its capacity to trust the judgments of others ["Poetry and the Problem of Taste," September 2007]. His closing argument — the claim that he can't offer any remedies to this crisis of legitimacy from within the abstract rubric of criticism, since "the solution...must lie in some form of conceptual renewal" — is particularly clever, since it advertises exactly the mission-impossible-style, this-essay-will-self-destruct-in-five-seconds remedy of which it pretends to be incapable, namely: don't rely upon essays about poetry, including this one, to tell you what's good and bad, what you should or shouldn't read, what poetry is or isn't, or what it can or should be.
Whenever I hear the words "the poetry culture," that's when I reach for a book of poems, because while the best of that culture — essays, dissertations, blogs, reviews, podcasts, panels, gossip, Listservs, conferences, blurbs, manifestoes, letters to editors, etc. — has the potential to inform, provoke, entertain, and inspire writers and readers of poems, what it can never do, as a consequence of its innate tendencies toward generalization and homogenization, is determine the kinds of poems (and tastes by which they are to be enjoyed) which will, much less should, be created. Poets will do that work in poems, as they always have, for better or worse. "The poetry culture" may be uncertain of its bearings, but poems are headed exactly where they've always been headed: toward wherever the hell it is they're going. Thus a simple suggestion for bringing about the "conceptual renewal" Phillips seeks: prefer poems to poetry.