Letter from Poetry Magazine

Letter to the Editor

by Ira Sadoff

Dear Editor,

Apparently Jason Guriel doesn’t really believe it when he says, “my mind is unreliable, meandering, fucked-up; why would I want to see it represented on the page?”—because here we have it, represented, with its full-blown reductive ignorance and arrogance [“Going Negative,” March 2009]. First, in his review of Jane Mead’s Usable Field he attacks the poet for her blurb, which she didn’t write. Then Guriel carelessly assumes the blurb refers to Dickinson the person rather than the poet on the page. Dickinson’s and Mead’s speakers both confront their isolation and exile while looking for reasons to live; Mead’s complex syntax and metaphors, her spare diction, her capacity to mix tones inside a single poem, all make use of the distilled precision and brevity that Dickinson models.

Poetry’s entitled to promote whatever aesthetic it sees fit (though I thought you were through with wise-ass reviews that draw attention to the reviewer instead of the work). If you’re going to review a serious poet, why not choose someone who has a sliver of a chance of inhabiting the poet’s project? Guriel uses Mead as his whipping post to attack a poetry that tracks the mind in process (“But it’s an old point, too, and the poetry it sometimes produces—vague, disjunctive, inconclusive—doesn’t so much track the movements of our minds as reflect them at their muddiest”). Astonishingly, he links Mead’s work with Jorie Graham’s dense postmodern poems. Perhaps all these two poets have in common is Guriel’s inability to comprehend their work. Mead’s poems are the polar opposite of Graham’s: Complex as they are, they’re lucid and austere, attached to the representational, archetypally so (the rivers and light whereof he complains). Her project’s not merely to track the mind at work, but to use consciousness as a means of searching out compassion, connections, and correspondence with the natural world and with others—a lesson Poetry’s reviewer is apparently not yet capable of absorbing.

waterville, maine

Originally Published: May 1, 2009

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This prose originally appeared in the May 2009 issue of Poetry magazine

May 2009


Ira Sadoff is the author of seven collections of poetry, including Barter, and Grazing (U. of Illinois), a novel, O. Henry prize-winning short stories, and The Ira Sadoff Reader (a collection of stories, poems, and essays about contemporary poetry). He is the recipient of a Creative Arts Fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts and a Fellowship from the Guggenheim foundation. His poems have been widely anthologized, . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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