On Poetry

January 24, 2013

Topographies of Desire: The Millions Interviews Megan Kaminski 2


One of my good friends is a very successful novelist. I was with her when she was approached by another (male) writer who was attempting to deride her work: “Aren’t all your books about the same thing?” My friend asked him what he meant by that. He replied without missing a beat — “Well, aren’t they all about women?”

November 14, 2012

Playing Telephone with Emily Dickinson and Paul Legault 2


Legault transports Dickinson into mostly fortune-cookie length snippets of contemporary English, a dialect spoken widely in urban pockets like Brooklyn, where increasing numbers of the highly educated and literary classes live, procreate, keep each other amused, and make their own cheese.

May 3, 2012

The Poetry of Mental Unhealth: Philip Larkin 10


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


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


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


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


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 4


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


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 18


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.