Originally published in Copper Nickel, this is a fascinating short article by Robert Archambeau about poetry wars and poetry politics: who is accepted and why. Well worth the short time it will take to read.
1. This is not a how-to guide
It isn’t quite a how-not-to guide either, but I suppose that’s closer.
2. “What you should be doing,” or: the limits of disinterest
A few years ago, when the Conceptualist poet Kenneth Goldsmith was making big waves in the little demitasse cup of the American poetry world, I wrote an essay that tried to explain what his work had to offer and what it didn’t. The email I received in response was gratifying in quantity, if bewildering in content. I’d tried merely to describe Goldsmith’s work, but I found I was condemned for having praised him, praised for having condemned him, praised for having praised him, and condemned for having condemned him—all in roughly equal measure. The uniform distribution of responses on the chart of praise and blame gave me some reassurance that my attempt at mere description hadn’t unintentionally become a clear act of advocacy or disapproval, but it also confirmed my suspicion that people were not particularly inclined to view as innocent an essay that did its best to remain neutral: an agenda, the thinking went, must lurk just below the surface. I am not so naïve as to believe that truly disinterested inquiry is possible, but the notion that we may approach disinterest asymptotically—like a curving line that comes ever closer to another line without ever touching it—was clearly alien to a literary audience that had been through several decades of the hermeneutics of suspicion. Only M, a critic from whom I had learned a great deal over the years, and who had always been kind to me, saw the essay for what it was, or tried to be—and she didn’t like it. “What you should be doing,” she told me, “is making a strong case for the poetry you believe in, and against the poetry you don’t.” She’d been doing exactly that for decades, and I knew people who revered her for it. I also knew people people who all but spat when they said her name. More.
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