James Longenbach

A recent New York Times book review for James Longenbach's latest, The Virtues of Poetry, emphatically starts with:

The audience for poetry is like a vastly reduced version of the audience for college football — superstitious, gossipy and divided into factions no less fervent for having only an occasional idea of what’s going on outside their own campuses. It’s a hard crowd to write for, and the critic who sets himself up as a color commentator inevitably struggles to find a style that can please Peter without needlessly riling up Paul.

Awesome. It continues by discussing Longenbach's work:

James Longenbach is one of the finest scholar-critics working today, and his method for dealing with poetry’s fractious readership is simple: He just tells all parties they’re wrong. In “Modern Poetry After Modernism” (1997), he pointed out that we “exaggerate the formal and political idiosyncrasy of postmodern poetry.” In “The Resistance to Poetry” (2004), he suggested that “poems have resisted themselves more strenuously than they have been resisted by the culture receiving them.” Typically these counterintuitive arguments are delivered so reasonably you feel as if you’ve been not so much corrected as nudged into rationality.

Longenbach’s latest book, THE VIRTUES OF POETRY (Graywolf, paper, $14), examines “the virtues to which the next poem might aspire,” which will obviously get the attention of poets but should also appeal to general readers. Each chapter is organized around one or two concepts — compression, doubt, otherness and so on — that Longenbach uses as a fulcrum to lift some impressively complex argumentative machinery.

Good stuff. Read the full review here.