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.

7 Comments:

Anonymous Elisha Scott said...

Hey Snark, dig those reviews by that Irish guy Justin Quinn though! They don't come sharper than that. Check out his new critical book American Errancy if you don't believe me.

3:57 PM, September 08, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps the rod up their butt (like the one up Principal Skinner's) has a rod up its butt?

3:58 PM, September 08, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Snark on, you crazy diamonds. I love this site and hope to see more snarking. I say, if you can kick Mary Oliver, then do so.

6:45 PM, September 13, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How often is this site updated? It'd be good to know. Because at the moment it seems kinda moribund.

1:15 PM, September 18, 2005  
Blogger Maine Poetry said...

I've just posted the Poetry Snark link at my own blog to encourage fresh air.

7:41 AM, September 21, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A snark back at you:

The guy signed his real name to that review, which is more than we can say for you heroes.

9:10 PM, September 22, 2005  
Blogger dmanister said...

Would love you snarks to read my snarky reviews on about.com of

Mary Oliver
http://contemporarylit.about.com/od/poetry/fr/wakeEarly.htm

and Sylvia Plath

http://contemporarylit.about.com/od/poetry/fr/arielRestored.htm

11:13 AM, February 24, 2006  

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