In her evaluation of The Penguin Anthology that Twentieth-Century American poetry <“Are this the Poems come Remember?,” NYR, November 24>, which I had actually the pleasure of editing, Helen Vendler appears to have permitted outrage to acquire the better of her, bring about a variety of illogical assertions and haphazard conclusions. I have no desire to connect a critic in a conflict on aesthetic preferences and also consequent selection—to each her own—but ns cannot allow her get away with building her home of cards top top falsehoods and innuendo.
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Let’s take it a closer look in ~ the most glaring of Helen Vendler’s wide assumptions:
1. Ms. Vendler maintains, in all seriousness: “No century in the advancement of city in English ever had 175 poets precious reading.” Whoa! I expect Vendler would rather I declare a top Ten, or perhaps just five, together she it s her did in her recent scholarly research Last Looks, last Books. Indeed, one of her own forays top top the anthology turf, The Harvard book of modern American poetry (1985), prompted a disgruntled reader to retort on Amazon.com: “The American Tree becomes a Toothpick.” Conversely, as soon as one considers the variety of American poets (124) in The Norton Anthology of modern-day and modern-day Poetry—which contains other Anglophone poets together well—or the number of poets who have received the Pulitzer Prize and also the National book or the National book Critics’ one awards, 175 doesn’t seem an insignificant number for a century’s precious of poetry—that is, if you space a only mortal not satiated by a secure diet that ambrosia.
Assuredly, many acclaimed poets room no complement to Shakespeare—probably no a one, not also Walt Whitman. But The Penguin Anthology the Twentieth-Century American poetry is not intended to be an detailed scholarly examine of pick-your-ism; that is a gathering of poems the editor finds impressive for a variety of reasons, and also by no means all of them in adherence to my very own aesthetic taste buds; my intent was come offer plenty of of the best poems bound right into books between 1900 and 2000 and also to lend a helping hand come those reader wishing come strike the end on their own beyond this selection. Part of the difficulty with the phenomenon one could contact poetry national politics is the reluctance of plenty of scholars to permit for an option without the selfish urge to denigrate past whatever doesn’t fit their very own aesthetics; literary background is rife with stories of doubters cracking the whip over the top of ducking artists, critics who in your hubris believe they have to be the just ones allowed to render verdicts in the public courts that literature.
But together we know, every generation burrows into its own hard-earned defenses, and it is the prerogative of the young come challenge—yes, and shock—their elders. Vendler allows her safety down as soon as she laments, quite condescendingly, that ns am a poet, no an essayist, “writing in a genre no
2. Vendler has established herself as an government on Wallace Stevens, and it is in that duty that she asks her unsuspecting readers, through exasperation: “Did Dove feeling that only these poems
3. “When Dove is not sympathetic come a provided poet, her remarks top top the poetry itself have the right to be misleading. Her portrait of Stevens offers us a tepid and boring writer.” exactly how curious: Vendler has wrapped her mind about the concept that i dislike Stevens, when nothing can be more from the truth. In fact, numerous commentators have prefaced interview concerns by citing mine admiration because that him—one even described it together “your apparent enthusiasm for Wallace Stevens.” plainly something is wrong in Vendler’s picture: might it be that this scholar, who has written therefore extensively and passionately on the aforementioned, cast a withering glance over my table the contents and also when Wallace Stevens come up quick in her page-per-poet tally, concluded that I need to detest his work?
Conversely, she appears to think the consist of of black color Arts city an point out of man endorsement. Shouldn’t a literary thinker of Vendler’s stature be conscious that a great anthologist is qualified of reading past and versus mere personal taste? Shouldn’t she have actually recognized that my giving room to poets as different from my very own “style” (whatever that is; hopefully, I’m still evolving) together Ashbery, Koch, Silliman, Mackey, Hijinian, and, yes, Baraka—the perform goes on—stands together testimony come my venture to be honest to the countless facets the poetic expression, whether i “approve” of lock or not?
It is astounding come me just how utterly Vendler misreads my an important assessment the the black Arts Movement, construing my simple account of their defiant manifesto together endorsement of their tactics; she ignores a substantial critical paragraph in which i decry the fallout from the motion (“Against such clamor and thunder, introspective black color poets had little chance to assert themselves and also were swept under the steamroller,” I compose in mine introduction) and instead concentrates on the handy whipping boy, Amiri Baraka, plucking i from his historically seminal city “Black Art” in which he denigrated Jews, thereby slyly, also creepily implying the I could have similar anti-Semitic tendencies. Smear by association…sound familiar? I would certainly not have believed Vendler capable of throwing such cheap dirt, and also no defense is necessary against these dishonorable tactics other than the desire to shield my call from the sort of slanderous slime that sticks back it bears no truth. (I could argue equal chance offensiveness by having actually printed Hart Crane’s “A liquid design template that floating niggers swell”—but possibly that makes me racist together well.)
In the very same breath, Vendler—no slouch once it involves lumping poets together by race—makes quick work that dismembering Gwendolyn Brooks, dismissing my description of Brooks’s “richly innovative” early poems together “hyperbole,” perhaps due to the fact that I dared to compare those poems come “the finest male poets of any type of race.” Evidently the 1950 Pulitzer committee believed highly sufficient of Ms. Brooks to award she the prize in poetry, in ~ a time once there was little talk the diversity in America and the expression “multiculturalism” had yet to go into the public discourse. Analogous praise today, however, quantities in Dame Vendler’s eye to nothing yet “hype.”
5. “The automatic—and no apt—association the an city scene v noise has created Dove’s ‘cacophony,"” proclaims Vendler upon getting to Hart Crane, and also then she proceeds to leave accuracy in the dust. Negative Crane: due to the fact that Vendler has decreed the he is ~ above my list of grievances, she rushes triumphantly come his defense, countering my description of “the cacophony of metropolitan life top top Hart Crane’s bridge” with instances of silence in “Proem,” which serves as the overture to the key work. Agreed, the hushed splendor that this preface is undeniable…but what that the poem itself? A cursory sweep over simply the ar excerpted in mine anthology returns a organize of especially sounds: what v trains whistling your “wail right into distances,” chanting road gangs, papooses crying—even men crunching down on tobacco quid—my gasp of surprise at Vendler’s blunder deserve to barely it is in heard.
6. “Perhaps Dove’s canvas—exhibiting mostly quick poems that rather restricted vocabulary—is what requirements to be displayed now come a general audience.”
This declare is breathtaking on numerous levels: its condescension, lack of veracity, and also the right veiled racism lurking behind the expression “restricted vocabulary.” yet rather than slogging it out in a fight of innuendos, let’s stick to facts. Lengthy poems abound in The Penguin Anthology the Twentieth-Century American Poetry: twelve are 5 pages in length or more; leading the ar at thirteen pages is man Ashbery, adhered to by T.S. Eliot and also Frank Bidart at eleven pages each, and also Robert Pinsky and also Ezra Pound through eight-pagers. Poems of in ~ least 4 pages in size occupy a whopping 106 pages—one 6th of the book—and ns haven’t even tried come tally the two- and three-page selections, which definitely cannot be taken as “short.” and also as far as Vendler’s claim of “restricted” vocabulary is concerned, i won’t grace such transparent insinuation with a more response.
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The lot of vitriol in Helen Vendler’s review betrays one agenda past aesthetics. Together a result, she not just loses her grasp on the facts, but her language, admired in the past for its theoretical elegance, snarls and also grouses, sidles and roars together it lurches from example to counterexample, misreading will again and again. Whether pushed by scholastic outrage or the wild woe of someone who feels betrayed by the civilization she believed she knew—how sad come witness a formidable knowledge ravished in such a clumsy performance.
Rita DoveCommonwealth Professor that EnglishUniversity of VirginiaCharlottesville, Virginia