Letter from Poetry Magazine

Letter to the Editor

by Daniel Robbins
Dear Editor,

After reading Adam Kirsch's "The Taste of Silence," I was shocked to find out that Kirsch had been appointed to the role of executor to contemporary poetry's estate. Not only does his essay assume the great burden of categorizing and labeling "our poetry"—whose time has apparently passed and is ready to be neatly argued down to the specifics—but it also does us the favor of detailing the ideology behind "what our poetry believes, and the ways it expresses that belief," so that the true believers of the congregation know what is expected of them.

Imagine my further surprise when Kirsch proved to be even luckier than Joseph Smith and uncovered "the single piece of writing" that held all reasoning behind the beliefs of contemporary poetry. So what is the great wisdom imparted to us through this piece of writing? Poets either use language to create things, or they use language to show us things. Both types of poets use language, that much is certain.

While that is certainly an insightful tenet on the nature of poetry, we can enrich our understanding by discerning between the two types. Those who create things tend to be a more fundamentalist lot (often referred to as Modernists), but the absence of true authority led to the Great Apostasy we call post-modernism. Today's poet—who shows us things—is a kinder, gentler poet, winning hearts and minds in a New Testament fashion, seeking to gather us on hillsides and tell us parables from which we must draw our own conclusions.

As I see it, Kirsch's article itself smacks of imperial "world-building," as it does not hesitate to dictate the "meaning and order" absent from the "chaos" of contemporary poetry. I disagree with these attempts to define an era of poetry that is still in flux, still sorting out its beliefs and disbeliefs.

Athens, Georgia

Originally Published: May 19, 2008

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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