Thursday, November 17, 2011

As one might have expected, people are angry about the Vendler review. Teresa just sent me a copy of what she calls "the opening salvo" from the Women's Poetry Listserv, which I used to get but don't any longer because I couldn't figure out how to keep its hundreds of comments from clotting up my email every day. I haven't yet read the responses to this salvo, although I presume they're supportive.

But here's the thing:

1. I have little interest in many of the poets that Helen Vendler loves: e.g., Jorie Graham, James Merrill, Wallace Stevens, etc., etc. I've always presumed that, as with any art, different styles and schools of poetry appeal to different readers. Some people like Pollack; some people like Grandma Moses. Myself, I don't care for either, but I do like Rothko and Vermeer.

2. I have been greatly influenced by the poetry of canonized white men. I don't know why this is so, but there you have it. However, I am not a canonized white man myself.

3. Helen Vendler is a woman. Other women are angry at her. Will they soon begin making those kinds of cruel personal remarks that politically liberal women made about Margaret Thatcher? I didn't like Margaret Thatcher either, but the remarks made me nervous, even when I was seventeen and as ignorant as a biscuit.

4. The subject or theme of a piece of writing may speak to the political, social, or sexual concerns of a particular group of people, yet it may still be a mediocre work of art. Also, people with bad politics or limited points of view can be great artists. I am not dissing anyone in particular here.

5. Poetry as breezy anecdote bores me. Poetry as a bland stack of images bores me. Poetry as a screech or a whine bores me. Poetry as cynical wordplay bores me. I don't care who writes this stuff--man or woman, Latino or white, Elizabethan or modernist. I don't want to read it.


Carlene said...

I second the motion. All of it.
I cannot imagine a world -interior or exterior-where Keats doesn't matter. And I don't like being made to feel guilty for loving the art, angst, or even (on occasion) the pomposity of some poets of note. I prefer instead to sample what I see, read what intrigues me, and appreciate the whole of poetry as a collection of attempts to explain, to revisit, and to re-envision the world.

Mumfacolyte said...

I've been looking for comment about the Vendler article, and found yours, with which I happen to be quite in agreement. I am no Vendler acolyte either--neither her book on Yeats nor the one on Dickinson seem of much value to me, and (like most people) I can't find anything in the poetry of Jorie Graham, of whom Vendler has been a huge exponent.

That said, I think the article is a very important one, and I am shocked that NYRB has not removed it from behind the paywall to make it more generally available. In fact I have contacted them urging them to do so, as I think it could only be to their benefit to open the discussion.

I see you keep returning to this topic, and each time, it seems to me, your comments strike exactly the right note.

I'm not a follower of this blog, but just a cursory look reveals dogs, poetry, all the right stuff. I imagine you have a cultivated following, as evidenced by the above comment by Charlene. Those who know me will recognize that I am of one mind with Charlene when it comes to Keats.

Dawn Potter said...

Thank you so much for visiting. Like you, I think the Vendler article is an important one--in implication as much as in substance--and I agree that the NYRB should open it up online to a wider readership. As much as V's scholarly limitations irritate me (and, as I know from my work with English teachers, poison many people's engagement with poetry), I think her remarks are brave. It is not easy for poets to claim solidarity with the old, as the WOMPO remark about "coded racism" makes clear. And yet. . . .