Letter from Poetry Magazine

Letter to the Editor

By Mischa Willett

Dear Editor,

Though I am a longtime admirer of the reviews in Poetry, I must confess: I'm a little flummoxed by D.H. Tracy's review of Richard Kenney's The One-Strand River ["Four Takes," September 2008]. I've read it over a few times, and it seems to me that Tracy thinks that every third poem in the book is lost to a "gimmick" and yet the whole somehow rescues poetry as a relevant art form for our time. I don't see how both things could be true. Kenney sounds at once baroque, out-of-touch, timely, satirical, brilliant, petulant, drab, and muscular. Have I got that right? Tracy compares him to Thomas Pynchon, who is by most counts among the very best writers of our time, and yet calls that comparison "dismal." What few positives Tracy offers are set up in a strange fashion: he says, "Kenney's touch is not always light enough for vers de société or deft political incisions," but finishes the sentence saying his political/social verse can not only be good, but the very water of life!

I will say that from the example Tracy gave, Kenny sounds like a formalist extraordinaire: I love the sound of "ignobly" split up to rhyme with "pig-/Like, quite, nor bleating." And "pure sensation/per se" wrapping up a poem called "To Circe"? Quel magnifique! Strange that this deft formalism wasn't mentioned at all.

I've read many strong reviews in this journal, full of furious opinions, but Tracy's, in this case, is a storm. I guess I want many things from a review, but one of them is at least the vaguest impression as to whether I should buy the book under discussion or not.

Originally Published: October 24th, 2008
Appeared in Poetry Magazine This Appears In