Letter from Poetry Magazine

Letter to the Editor

by David Tinling
Dear Editor,

Clive James goes all around the barn (an American barn) to stick it to Charles Olson and William Carlos Williams ["Little Low Heavens," September 2008]. I am reminded of how Mencken observed that American English was flat, direct, and straightforward, like a Kansas plain, different from the theatrical tongue of the mother country—and less devious. I recall a reading some twenty-five years ago in Rochester by Anthony Hecht and Joel Oppenheimer. Both had Jewish childhoods in Brooklyn and were of the same age, but Hecht sounded Oxbridge (how we forget that Eliot was from Missouri, not far from Kansas) and Oppenheimer sounded like a gravelly-voiced New Yorker coughing up the pavement as poems. I spoke with Joel later and asked him to explain the difference in their work. All he could say was, "Tony writes pretty." It is a big barn, this American space, and there is room for everyone.

Rochester, Vermont

Originally Published: October 24, 2008

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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