Friday, December 23, 2005

David Lehman Takes a Swipe at Bloggers

Let me preface this entry by saying that I have a certain fondness for poet/editor David Lehman. I think of good ol' Dave as one of the greatest American poetry pimps that America has witnessed in the past two decades. The guy knows how to market poetry, and for that, he deserves a woot, woot! In many respects, my views on the commercial aspects of poetry resemble his. Like Dave, I don't have a problem with Rosie and J-Lo writing poetry -- the more, the merrier. I think Dave's a cool guy with a cool anthology series.

But, if only for the sake of my fellow poetry bloggers, I have to defend our kind, and poetry criticism, from this assertion of Dave's in The Best American Poetry 2005, edited by Paul Muldoon:

"But it is also worrisome that that the back of [Poetry] -- the part devoted to criticism -- has grown steadily. More voices, more pages, do not equal clarification. It is sometimes said with heavy tones of lamentation that in this day and age everyone's a poet. The criticism in Poetry implies that on the contrary everyone's a critic. And criticism is too often the sound of a gripe and the taste of sour grapes expressed with all the sensitivity and thoughtfulness of a midnight blogger" (pp. 4-5).

First, hey Dave, bloggers have feelings, too, you know! I know you must think that your analogy of poets/ poetry critics who suffer from sour grapes to midnight bloggers is cool and all, but you're not scoring points with this "midnight blogger." My "sensitivity and thoughtfulness" says that this one-sentence swipe at bloggers deserves to kiss my proverbial yellow and slightly-less-hairless-than-the-average-American's behind.

Second, yes, everyone is a critic. For example, this particular paragraph of yours needs editing. The sentences in this paragraph deserve commas. I've helped you a bit already. I changed "lamentation than" to "lamentation that." That was a typo. I also only excerpted the second part of your paragraph, because obviously, this is a new paragraph -- you had been praising Poetry as "a little livelier, more compelling magazine than it had been" to set yourself up for axing it. Very clever. Now all you need is a paragraph break, and you're ready for the prom.

Third, I do not know anyone who has ever said "with heavy tones of lamentation" that everyone is a poet. I know you're just articulating the other side's position here, but really, I don't know anyone who would "lament heavily" -- like a virgin shrouded in the purest shade of white, who has just discovered that her fiance has run off with the village prostitute -- over too many people being poets.

Fourth, and now on to the more serious stuff, I agree that "more voices, more criticism, do not equal clarification." But I disagree with your implification that this phenomenon is bad. I don't believe in a hierarchy of poetry. Now, your anthology represents a hierarchy, and it works well for the masses, and I think you should run with it. But I don't think that you should take yourself too seriously here. Don't let your critics push you into vehemently defending the "clarification" of your model of organization. It's clear who is in charge with dictatorships. Clarification does not necessarily mean good. Actually, this claim contradicts your other suggestions to open up poetry itself to a greater cacophony of voices. If the "poets' club" should have more voices, why not the "poetry critics' club"?

Fifth, yes, I realize that poets can be petty and childish, and that can be bad. It can be bad when "people...go public with their peeves" (p. 5). I don't think of personal "peeves" as poetry criticism, and I know it can be hard to draw the line. I'd draw the line at personal attacks on the poet, but that's an ambigious standard as well. But isn't it better this way? Now we can separate the "real intellectuals" from the vindictive posers. That's an advantage of having a liberal democracy -- perhaps with more than any other form of government, you can tell the difference between people who sincerely care about poetry and those who merely want to air their personal grievances. At least I can, and I'd like to think that most people can as well.

It strikes at something more fundamental and more American as well. Americans are blunt and bold and sexy and weird and lovely and diverse in more ways than one could possibly conceptualize. And returning to the origins of this post, this diversity is reflected in the wide array of blogs out there. So Dave, as a friend, I would say that you should visit more blogs, or start one of your own, to find out what all the fuss is about.


Blogger Tom Beckett said...

Yee-ow! The "implifications" of your perorations rock! Blog on, midnight blogger. Blog onward!


poets court tumescence bang gongs

9:50 AM  
Blogger david raphael israel said...


Ich Bein Ein Midnight Blogger

what an argument you hone
& a good axe you grind!
daresay you're in the zone
& express well your mind
I stumbled on yer blog
googling "Indran Amirthanayagam"
wow! you clear David Lehman's fog
& a Midnight Blogger? I am one


8:28 AM  
Blogger david raphael israel said...

ps Roger -- my hat-tipping ditty needed polishing to bring it up to snuff. Final version's here.

1:46 PM  
Blogger Roger Pao said...

Thanks for the ditty, David!

8:06 PM  
Blogger Zelda Valentine said...

Roger--I really like this entry. I think they also cut down bloggers in the 2004 Best American Poetry, which I enjoyed less than the 2003 volume, and so on. I have an old blog here but also a new one at Wiley (Austin Valentine)

6:57 PM  
Blogger Indran Amirthanayagam said...

glad to know of your argument. let's keep in touch


11:01 PM  

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