Letter from Poetry Magazine

Letter to the Editor

by Robert Longoni
Dear Editor,

The Italian Poetry Portfolio [December 2007] touched on a controversial issue that keeps raising its head in current discourse — one that I think has created more confusion than light among critics and poets who fail to see, or choose to ignore, its complexity. I am referring 
to the widespread dispute over what Gianluigi Simonetti calls “the lyric subject,” involving what some perceive to be the overuse, in poems today, of the pronoun “I,” or at least the dominance of the first-person consciousness or point of view in lyric poetry.

Too much of anything can erode our taste for it, and the dominant genre of any period is likely to produce the greatest number of  inferior works. But observations of  that kind do not justify condemning on aesthetic grounds either the genre or any of its characteristic features. What should be judged, rather, is the handling of those elements, and the achieved effects. The fact that using certain traditional features now requires more sensitivity and originality has not prevented great numbers of talented poets from rising to the challenge. Furthermore, the success of those who respond to the same challenge differently — 
by deliberately playing off the usual expectations — proves that inspired poems produced from either approach can achieve otherwise unattainable effects.

Once again, we seem to be allowing the practical need for imposing definitions and creating categories to interfere with our aesthetic judgments. Whether one chooses to place the experimental ventures of certain poets under a new label (or no label at all), or sees them as variations within an existing tradition, their intrinsic quality remains the same. It is far more useful for critics and teachers to reveal, as Simonetti does, what the poems are actually doing.

Gilbert, Arizona

Originally Published: January 28, 2008

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This prose originally appeared in the February 2008 issue of Poetry magazine

February 2008

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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