Letter from Poetry Magazine

Letter to the Editor

by Llyn Clague
Dear Editor,

John Lanchester, in the New Yorker, asks, "Are there any unreconstructed Marxists left, anywhere in the wild?" And he presciently adds: "(Universities don't count.)" Robert Archambeau's essay ["A Guildhall Summons: Poetry, Politics, and Leanings Left," November 2008] is a disappointment after the discussion of poetry and politics initiated by David Orr ["The Politics of Poetry," July/August 2008]. Orr cites several examples of contemporary political poetry—from Ralph Nader to Robert Hass—and examines issues the poems raise. Archambeau's tired Marxist analysis of poets' position in contemporary American society does nothing to illuminate the problems of actually writing political poetry, and the one poem he examines utterly trivializes political poetry.

John Matthias's poem "Unpleasant Letter" is, on one level, harmless enough, and if it were one of many that Archambeau turned up in all his "rooting around in dingy archives," it might be merely amusing. A poet (an American in London) is cited for a bicycling infraction and gets back at the authorities by summoning them to come to his "secret rituals and rites." In Archambeau's words, "the poet wins, at least in the realm of symbol and language." The poem is precious in the worst sense of the word. It reminds me of a child leaving the playground, thumbing his nose, nya nya nya, at his conquerors—from a safe distance. It not only trivializes but virtually ridicules political poetry as a serious enterprise. This kind of article does not advance the discussion Orr initiated.

Hastings-on-Hustings, New York

Originally Published: December 30, 2008

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