Having received a flurry of bullying personal e-mails several years ago from Franz Wright after I wrote a less-than-adulatory review of his work, it is with some trepidation that I respond now.
I approached both books I reviewed in February’s issue uninfluenced by the stamp of received authority or prestige, as any serious reader should. While I found a great deal to admire, the work raised larger questions that interested me, both as a poet and critic.
I read the poetry according to the terms the work itself established and explained those terms as I understood them. I never once mentioned “incorrect” or “weak” grammar in discussing Fady Joudah’s poems, only the effect of “imprecise grammar or syntax” in the very specific context of the way in which he deploys his images.
Though it is hardly worth mentioning that creative use of syntax is essential to the poet’s art, I don’t believe that imprecision is a form of invention. My comment fed into a larger point, neither addressed nor acknowledged by Wright, that such imprecision muddies the very thought or feeling the image is intended to express. Many poets rely on the concatenation of images as a primary mode; the potential limitation of this reliance prompted the essay.
It’s clear, too, that formal originality isn’t Joudah’s priority in The Earth in the Attic.
A letter that begins by criticizing me for not keeping in mind that English isn’t Joudah’s mother tongue, and that ends by damning me for apparently keeping it too much in mind, made me wonder what in these poems suggested to Wright that Joudah doesn’t have a fluent command of English? Finally, does such an accomplished person—poet, doctor, translator, and advocate—really require this sort of special pleading from Franz Wright?