Thursday, September 22, 2005

Why so few posts?

Every time I notice something snark-worthy passing by in poe-biz--things like the cover of the latest Fence, some really serious shit goes down like Katrina or the Roberts confirmation, and the snark just doesn't seem worth it. If only I was as persistent and mean as H.L. Mencken. Here are a few comments that seem even more true now than they did when he wrote them:

  • Democracy is the theory that holds that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

  • Every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods.

  • Nature abhors a moron.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

"Let this provision atone...": The Fury of the Contemporary Poetry Review

I'm back.

Trochee's recent post describes how Garrick Davis, editor of the Contemporary Poetry Review, defended us from some accusations in one of their "letters to the editor." Trochee thanks Davis "for his support of poetry and criticism" -- by which, I take it, Trochee means to indicate Davis's willingness to entertain the virtues of our humble site. That's fine. CPR deserves some credit for maintaining their link to us after we teased them -- and after we were denounced by Exquisite Corpse; because, well, the editors of the Corpse are a bunch of incompetents who apparently don't read the submissions they post to their own site.

But let's be honest: the reviewers at CPR are a part of the problem, not the solution. Even when they manage to attempt a negative review, their timidity renders the review so absurdly apologetic that it's impossible to discern the wish from the wash. Aside from their willingness to link to us -- and let us do the work they praise as "in short supply in these days of logrolling and sycophancy" -- I have seen no evidence that they themselves want to stop the logs from rolling.

Take Sunil Iyengar's recent review of Mary Oliver's Why I Wake Early. Iyengar doesn't like this book, but he's afraid to criticize it. Before offering his commentary, he begs his readers to "Let this provision atone for any negative remarks that follow. In an era as cluttered as ours, a reviewer feels off-target to fault Mary Oliver."

"Atone for any negative remarks"? Oh sinner! Thou hast responded negatively to a poem. That will be 40 lashes, a stick up the ass, and a mandatory 60 dollar donation to the Academy of American Poets.

Let there be no mistake: Mary Oliver is an awful, awful poet. Humorless, witless, devoid of any sense of music, employing flat declarative sentence after flat declarative sentence in an apparent effort to make the prose of a third-grade spelling book appear eloquent and lively, Oliver's "transparency" of language tries to excuse a complete lack of poetic intuition and an audience of readers unable to parse sentences more difficult than "See Spot run." The fact that she received the Pulitzer is an indictment of where we're at.

I get the impression Iyengar knows this. I also get the impression he is afraid of his own teeth. Here he is at his most vicious:

(Confronting this last excerpt, one wants to retort: "Actually, we do mind. We mind that you mind. What's so audacious about the heart / daisy metaphor that we would brook dissent?")

Who cares. I don't mind. You apparently don't mind. Rather, "one" minds. Who is this "one" that minds that Oliver minds? "Daisy metaphor," "brook dissent." Why. Anyone who uses the word "brook" as a critical term in a review of poetry written in the last … oh say 50 years -- can't be taken seriously.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

On Being Charged

One of the letters to the editor posted at the Contemporary Poetry Review by an anonymous reader expresses dismay at Poetry Snark having been a recommended site. We are accused of "hatemongering, misogyny, racism and the like."

I say to this detractor and any others that may share such thoughts that to hate on poetry is not hatemongering. When hate is indeed the expression at hand, then know that there is nothing wrong with hating anything. Like it or not, hate is part of the spectrum of reactions one may experience when confronting any creative work. In poetry, like other arts, hating a work is better than indifference. Whereas a strong feeling like hate may cloud a person's perception, there is a still a level of engagement one is able to employ by which something might be made, improved, dismantled, discredited, et al., indifference generates nothing and leaves vacant the space where conversation, discussion, debate, instruction and other methods of communication may prevail.

Garrick Davis, editor of the CPR, reasonably states he "posted a link to it because "snark" is in short supply in these days of logrolling and sycophancy. I trust that you are not too surprised to find intemperate remarks on a website that clearly labels itself as a clearinghouse for mean-spirited gossip." His posting of our link of course does not designate comradeship or support for our words but he is certainly working in the spirit of engagement rather than indifference or censorship, regardless of what others might think of editors or anonymous writers. It is important to note that while Poetry Snark does enjoy & provide gossip, we do not label ourselves as "a clearinghouse for mean-spirited gossip" but instead hope to carry on some of the snarkier efforts of the old days of the Edinburgh Review but more importantly we are concerned with a lack of venue in which to safely express one's dissatisfaction & disdain with certain poets, books of poetry, poetry venues or anything else poetry.

Our writings are serious but should not be taken as seriously as some of our poor readers seem to do themselves. Humor, for better or worse, is a prevailing factor in our efforts. To be charged with racism is not surprising but one must consider what lurks behind the anonymity. All of us could be Chinese, so our strong statements as found in Poethnic Cleansing II would be self-loathing but hardly racist. I stand by my claim that stereotypes exist for a reason and if a certain ratio of readers continue their misguided political correctness without irony or humor, they will miss much of the point behind any form of satire and complaint.

Thank you to Mr. Davis for his support of poetry and criticism.

Stay tuned as we plan to bring you more snark as we pick up from where we left off.