Friday, February 24, 2006

Praise Where Praise is Due

One of the driving motivations for this site has always been to encourage more candor, honesty, and wit in reviews of books of poetry. Now I know that this site is ultimately just another "fart in the whirlwind of the internet," as JP put it in a recent comment here, but hey, what can you do?

So on those rare occasions when I read a review that shows some guts and goes after a stinkbomb of a book or pops somebody's puffed rep, I feel all warm and fuzzy inside, and I wanna share the love. Unlike Garrick Davis of the Contemporary Poetry Review, Diana Manister has delivered the goods, producing as direct and incisive of a takedown as I've read recently and gracing us with a bit of real Menckenesque snark. Her subject: the very same book Davis disliked but waffled before, Mary Oliver's brain-splittingly awful, Why I Wake Early. I have a few problems with this review (why still give Oliver two and a half stars?) but it says what it means and avoids the deadening niceties that so infest poetry-speak these days.

Her review begins with a sentence that would have made the editors of the old Edinburgh Review proud: "The poet Mary Oliver is the Denny's Restaurant of American poetry: consistent and banal." Yes! Why can't we read more reviews like this?

Other choice morsels:

"A more sanguine poet might also see that the Lord's gift to the gull was probably an infestation of parasites that caused it to scratch..."

"A. R. Ammons, walking the beach in his great poem 'Corson's Inlet' saw 'everywhere life under seige.' Compared to him, Oliver is Mary Poppins."

"Take off your bonnet, Mary, it's too late to live in the Sixteenth Century."

And Manister doesn't let up in the end either, concluding: "Only poetry that asserts the presence of goodness while acknowledging evil can bring comfort in a world where children sent to school may be taken hostage or shot. Little Mary Sunshine doesn't get it done."

Indeed. Props to you, Diana Manister, for bringing it on. I hope I can buy you a beer someday and talk shop. If you ever want to guest post at Poetry Snark, let me know.


Anonymous Lukecubed said...

This reminds me. I haven't read Mary Oliver's work, and I don't care to. I read those "how to get your poems published" BS pieces every now and then, and once consistent piece of advice I see offered is "read as much current poetry as you can get your hands on." That's difficult for me. I hate modern poetry. There's a few decent poets drifting around its fringes, and I'm sure there are some fantastic poets I don't know about because they're surrounded by the utter shite that characterizes 9/10ths of what gets published and reviewed these days. But I just don't have time to pick up Yale Review/Ploughshares/Poetry/Fence just to once again confirm that I really don't like touchy-feely, dramatic-pause-employing, isn't-the-sunrise-miraculous, aren't-I-so-in-touch-with-our-souls rich prick poetry. Maybe that came out too harsh. But fuck it. Even the shit that gets anthologized for future generations tends to suck. Bly? Sucks. Berryman? Sucks. Pinsky? Mediocre, and he's the fucking laureate. I'm assuming they mean read so much modern poetry so I can pattern myself after them and turn up my nose at those old writers we're supposed to hate now, because they actually knew how to write and what not to bother saying. So then I just say "fuck it" and go back to reading poems by dead guys. And I find myself wondering, how many other poets, more talented than myself, find themselves similarly discouraged with the wealth of mediocrity held up as the irreproachable standard, and just don't even bother submitting their work to be rejected?

Oh, and when the fuck did poetry styles start becoming associated with political philosophs? If I'm a cynical about capitalism I have to write "I've given up trying to say anything and I'm scared of my own voice" LangPo, and if I write something more traditional I should send it to the facists at the New Criterion? And since neither of these camps would accept my work, I should give up and throw my lot in with the gibbering masses of amateur poets and hope I get noticed? No, fuck that. Fuck American poetry. And especially fuck anyone who would title their book something like "Why I Wake Early." Rant over.

6:49 PM, March 04, 2006  

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