On Poetry

May 3, 2012

The Poetry of Mental Unhealth: Philip Larkin 10

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Readers have a perfect right to regard Philip Larkin, as I do not, as a complete shit. But if they consider his personal failings indistinguishable from his poetry, I think the loss is theirs.

May 2, 2012

Post-40 Bloomer: Spencer Reece, The Poet’s Tale 5

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We needed such a story. The romance, the sense of “close call.” We need these stories to counter the inevitability of obscurity; we need stories that kindle our sense of hope, and possibility. In truth, I wouldn’t blame fans or journalists for altering or exaggerating the story. I understand why we need it to be as dramatic as possible.

April 12, 2012

Dream a Little Dream of Me: John Berryman 9

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Among the adjectives Vendler applies to Henry are “regressive, petulant, hysterical, childish, cunning, hypersexual, boastful, frightened, shameless, and revengeful.” Also, “complaining, greedy, lustful, and polymorphously perverse.” Did we miss anything? How about self-pitying, irresponsible, envious, and grandiose?

December 28, 2011

Race and American Poetry: Dove v. Vendler 34

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Vendler asks us to think of value in terms of a hypothetical and permanent future, one that will have unvarying and therefore conclusive notions of what was good and bad in our writing. It’s an exasperating argument, since it asks us to defer to the critic’s mystical conjuring of our far off progeny, a population that will, of course, have the same values as the critic herself.

November 25, 2011

A Wanderer in Poem Forest 0

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My grandfather died two weeks ago, in his bed, by the sea in Maine. Two days earlier, perhaps with a little help from his morphine, he looked out his bay window and said: “I am going to run across that water.”

October 11, 2011

“I am the turnstile”: Roaming with Tomas Tranströmer 3

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I’m a rank amateur, but when I read the Boston Globe’s dismissal of Tranströmer as “an elderly Swedish poet virtually unknown outside his homeland,” it felt necessary to speak up with the voice of an amateur.

October 3, 2011

A Poet Laureate from the Proletariat: An Appreciation of Philip Levine 9

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I came upon a book of poems that proved to me that art can be made from absolutely anything, from a night-shift job at Chevy Gear & Axle or a job picking Gravenstein apples.

July 4, 2011

Embracing The Other I Am; or, How Walt Whitman Saved My Life 17

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The first edition of Leaves of Grass is a poetical Declaration of Independence in so many ways it can be hard to keep track of them all.

April 22, 2011

A Year with Peter Porter 1

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Porter had a united vision of the arts, switching in his conversation between literature, music and painting on a whim, but talking about each discipline with equal authority and interest. And then I read his poetry.

April 21, 2011

American Laurels: The Poets Laureate Anthology 4

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As a volume in the cultural history of American poetry, there’s no doubt that Elizabeth Hun Schmidt’s The Poets Laureate Anthology is a valuable text. For starters, it’s the only book of its kind.