Letter from Poetry Magazine

Letter to the Editor

by Paul Baumstarck

Dear Editor,

I was dismayed to find this passage in Daisy Fried’s letter to the editor [July/August 2010] in response to David Biespiel’s essay [May 2010]:

Since no thinking person could possibly see the Bush administration in a positive light, and Gioia is a thinking person, he must have believed that the good he could do as head of the nea—and he certainly did good—outweighed the symbolic evil of agreeing to serve America’s most malignant administration ever.

I’ve learned never to introduce politics or one’s political views unnecessarily into a discussion because it most often clouds the issue and polarizes one’s audience. But, even when this is unavoidable, it can be done more artfully than with invidious phrases like “most . . . ever,” and plain condescension such as “since no thinking person could possibly [disagree with me].” This last is particularly arrogant and high-handed: regardless of what Fried is talking about, her language itself singles out a fraction of your readers and tells them, “You are not thinking persons; you must be idiots.” While such rhetorical flourishes are perfectly befitting of a blog, they are less well-suited to scholarly exhibition, and hardly becoming of the edifice that countenances them.

A letter to the editor is about communicating a point, but such sentences are not about communicating, since they often affront the audience and turn off people who had hitherto been receptive readers. This is mere self-indulgence, and it detracts from what is otherwise an interesting letter.

falls church, virginia

Originally Published: October 1, 2010

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This prose originally appeared in the October 2010 issue of Poetry magazine

October 2010

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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