Letter from Poetry Magazine

Letter to the Editor

by Loren Keller
Dear Editor,

Clive James says, "Today's deliberately empty poetry can get a reputation for a time...but it will never be as interesting as the question of how it got there." Are we to understand this as an all-out attack on today's poetry? And are we to interpret James's alternative demand to be the preservation of what he calls "the underlying frame"? James is so sure that "far into the twentieth century, poets in English could still depend on the reader's knowing that there was a simple rhythm under the complex one and that the simple was what made the complex possible." I've been involved with poetry at least as long as James, and I have almost no memory of such a time. I guess James is talking only about British poetry, in which he includes Eliot, Auden, and Plath. The only American poet he gives much space to is Conrad Aiken (who was not guilty of eliminating the simple rhythm), whom he chops to ribbons. Searching for a villain, James decides that it wasn't Charles Olson but William Carlos Williams who brought American poetry to its present state where "the poem without form has nothing else to grab your attention either." All I can say is that James really needs to look more closely at Robert Creeley and Louis Zukofsky. He'll find stuff that would have made A.E. Housman cut himself while shaving.

Tonawanda, New York

Originally Published: October 24, 2008

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

November 2008

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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