Tuesday, July 5, 2011

because it's lovable

I have carefully resisted invitations to "StumbleUpon" or "digg" all the gloriously random but gripping content of the internet for the same reason that I never make marshmallow treats at home:  because I love them too much.  That makes accidentally Stumbling Upon something I really digg even sweeter and stickier.

Consider this, from a review of two new books on the why of poetry by poet Joel Brouwer:

"So for both Bernstein and Orr, poems have “inner lives” and are capable of “coming to life” as we read them, and there are reasons to love them. All this would suggest that poems are, as a class, inherently meaningful and appealing. But Bernstein is committed to the idea that any effort to understand those meanings is not only doomed but misguided, and Orr arrives at the underwhelming conclusion that if poems happen to appeal to you for some reason, then they will appeal to you for that reason.

Both authors appear to be practicing criticism as tautology. The meaning of a poem is that we ask ourselves what it means. If the poem is valuable, it’s because it is. Orr approvingly quotes Italo Calvino’s conclusion to his essay “Why Read the Classics?”: “The only reason one can possibly adduce is that to read the classics is better than not to read the classics.” Such an argument seems easily defended, but also irritatingly easy, and I can foresee it eliciting one of two perfectly reasonable reactions from readers. The first would be to get peeved and demand that the critic stop pussyfooting around already and tell us what he thinks we should think, so that we can agree or disagree with him and get on with it."

And then:

"You may be thinking all this sounds like a lot of ivory-tower horse****. That may be, but beneath it lies a simple and straightforward concern. I worry that contemporary readers and writers of poetry and poetry criticism, a constituency you’d think would be capable of being in uncertainties and eager to dwell in possibility and all that, are too often too quick to judge one another’s ideas right or wrong. I don’t want to oversimplify Bernstein as having nothing more to say than “difficulty and experimentation are good; accessibility and received forms are bad,” and Orr as having nothing more to say than “if you gave poetry a chance, you might like it!” I propose that we greet simplistic and reductive rhetoric not with more of the same but with lenity and mischief. I propose that the next time someone tells you that blogs, Twitter, critical theory, Garrison Keillor, the AAP, the AWP, the MLA, the MFA, Billy Collins, publishing conglomerates, obscurity, accessibility, John Ashbery, hip-hop, online publishing, Charles Bernstein, David Orr, or anything or anyone else is “killing poetry,” you proffer your responding deposition in the form of a spear of summer grass. I propose we desert our posts in the poetry wars and wander off in search of more creative and intimate ways of interacting with criticism.

I don’t need Bernstein’s or Orr’s critical positions to be correct or incorrect—I don’t need them at all—but I want them to be . . . oh, let’s say “lovable.” (I choose the term in part because it’s embarrassing, vague, and dorky; criticism marked by cool, clear confidence is exactly what I’m trying to discredit.) By a lovable criticism, I mean a criticism that allows space for its readers’ imaginations without compromising its own convictions; which ventures its ideas rather than asserting them; which would rather start a conversation than end one; which not only speaks but also listens; which admits and embraces uncertainties. A lovable criticism is a criticism willing to make itself vulnerable, willing even to embarrass itself."

Do go and read the rest of this incisive (in the way that marshamallows and Rice Krispies are incisive) and entertaining consideration of how poetry matters.

1 comment:

  1. Try these, and you'll make rice crispie treats at home every time you get the chance (and the ingredients):

    http://smittenkitchen.com/2009/11/salted-brown-butter-crispy-treats/

    ReplyDelete