Scenes the Writer Shows: {Forty-one places a poem can go}

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Contents

  1. Analysis of Poem Howl by Allen Ginsberg
  2. Show Your Work! by Matthew Zapruder | Poetry Foundation
  3. What is Kobo Super Points?

What Matthew Zapruder probably misses is a way to understand much of what's out there like the rest of us and thinks somehow critics know but won't tell because they are too "threatened" by the scary newness of it all. He seems to believe that there is not a lot of close reading and critical explication and evaluation going on because the critics are willfully ignoring it, and that, like all philistines, they just don't get it.

This is an adolescent fantasy at best, one that is fueled by the idea that the "parents" i. I can assure him that no contemporary poetry critic, including myself, is ignoring it. I have written about the difficulty of much contemporary American poetry, sometimes through reviews for the Contemporary Poetry Review, sometimes through my now-ended series of essays called the Boston Comment, at one time even incurring much wrath for my efforts including some lovely missives from Mr.

Zapruder himself. What Zapruder seems to be decrying is a lack of criticism that would help readers approach and appreciate difficult poetry. He seems to say that if we had more criticism, there would be more readers. Some here have already pointed out the absurdity of that idea Bill Knott and Michael Robbins, e. But what hasn't yet been stated is something I find so obvious I must say it: the kind of critical writing that enables evaluation—not just the critic's opinion, but a "teachable" way to evaluate what's good, better, best or lousy—is what's missing in contemporary critical writing.

Because you cannot articulate, amplify or evaluate in words, writing that eschews words as conveyers of thought to use Zapruder's phrase. If words don't function as conveyors of thought in the poem, but only as formatting devices or visual art, how does one successfully apply critical thought to that poem—it doesn't want to be thought about. There are only so many ways to say "language is arbitrary" and I, for one, am tired of every single one of those ways. We don't need a way to talk about such poems. We need more poems that have something in them to talk about.

Joan, I don't think Zapruder is calling for discussion of "difficult" poetry; what he seems to me to be calling for is criticism of it by people with some understanding of it, and of poetry in general. Matthew Zapruder may be unaware of some of the prior work done on the issue of "difficulty", and his idea that better criticism might increase readership may sound naive, but I think his basic approach is sound, when he calls for a criticism that looks closely at what particular, individual poems are doing.

I also think the idea that poetry primarily conveys thoughts or ideas, which are paraphrasable by the critic, is problematic. It's running distinct paragraphs etc.

Bob Grumman, there's nothing in what I've written to account for your comment to me. I have no idea why you've written it. Of course, Zappruder is calling for a criticism of difficult poetry, etc. That's what the article is about. Why are you reiterating the obvious? Henry Gould, any poetry criticism that does not look at what paritcular, individual poems are doing, is not worthy of the name. And of course, poetry that is primarily "paraphrasable" is at best boring. And of course, poetry is a "fusion of style and matter" and "good criticism will aim for a consideration of ALL the elements in a poem.

I spend much time on analyzing and evaluating individual poems, as all editors and teachers and critics must. And "paraphrasing" is not how such activity can be characterized. I'm a big fan of elliptical work, not a fan of PoMo in general, but the problem is how to apply analysis to, and elucidate for, the general reader, a poem that is designed to prove that words do not convey thought.

Can you do it with words? Doesn't that present something of a conundrum? I would like to know your thoughts on this. A person who isn't inclined toward reading poetry isn't likely to read criticism on poetry. It is those most engaged with poetry already who read and write criticism. I agree with the writer who pointed to K education as a place needing focus in this regard. Remember high school? Where's the joy in decoding what the red wheel barrow "means"?

No wonder so many people walk away from poetry when they are through. Well, one person's platittudes are another's building blocks. I agree. I don't think either of the poems Zapruder used as examples, had much to do with what you say the problem is "but the problem is how to apply analysis to, and elucidate for, the general reader, a poem that is designed to prove that words do not convey thought".

Then again, you yourself said this is an irresolvable non-problem. So why are we talking about it? Why are you criticizing Zapruder for an argument he didn't make? Hello everyone- Thanks for the zealous comments. We just relaunched the back end of this site on Monday, which seems to have caused some formatting trouble in the comments section. Thanks for being patient while we investigate and fix the problem.

YOU - Beck's Poem [1x10]

Henry, when Zapruder says: "What is the purpose of literary criticism? Without critics, we will hold on to the familiar and be unable to accept that there are other uses for language, that there is new and exciting poetry all around us" --what do you think he means by "other uses"? Other than what? I'm assuming he means other than "making sense of the world," yes?

But isn't that the very definition of poetry, that the language is being used for purposes other than merely "making sense of the world? Either Zapruder is stating the obvious, or he's calling for some other use of what he calls "the materials of poetry--words and how they work.

Could it be the use of words and how they DON'T work? I dunno. Just asking. But perhaps more importantly, he's echoing the conclusion of Keats' "To Autumn". So the words have a double meaning. And as I understand it, this is the kind of poetic "other meaning" that Zapruder is suggesting critics can help to elucidate. But perhaps I shd let Zapruder speak for himself. Henry, yes. But I have a feeling Zapruder isn't referring to the usual kinds of poetic "other meaning" we are all familiar with as you describe so nicely here.

If this is all it is, then his article is either evidence of misunderstanding of what critics already do, or it is a vague idea of some other function they should be performing, as yet undefined. Yes, there are critics already doing this. Zapruder says so here. He agrees with you. He's saying there's not enough of it. Joan, from what I know of you, and from your desire for "more poems that have something in them to talk about," I jumped to a conclusion that may well be mistaken, being a pop-off artist.

It was that you considered the fact that there are visible critics discussing "Close Encounters with Nonsense" some kind of refutation of what Zapruder was asking for which for all I know I also got wrong. But aside from that, how about a few names of critics who have discussed language poetry and told in reasonable detail what's in them and why it's of value.

I haven't run into many. Silliman, for instance, hasn't helped me, nor Perloff. While you're at it, how about the names of a few who have given any kind of serious consideration to visual poetry. It is interesting I think how many comments seemed to not comment on Matthew's comparison of some poetry to some paintings. His discussion of abstract paintings seemed to be one of the points he was making. But there is perhaps something about visual things that if they are nicely arranged or colorful, they can still be pleasing.

So perhaps abstract painting is not the same as difficult poetry. I wonder if there is something about the fact that people use language every day that makes them feel like they should be able to appreciate a poem on their own and that critics are not necessary. Also, if I was trying to figure out how to change the oil in my car, and if someone gave me a manual to read about changing oil, I don't think I'd say, "I don't need to read a book about changing the oil, I can figure it out myself! Mechanics are useless!

Not that critics are mechanics, and poems aren't machines. It's not an entirely apt metaphor. I'm so sorry I came to this conversation late. It's very clear that you desperately need my assistance. But let me render that assistance in the form of an enigmatic question as you know, a very important part of the posture one assumes in these august circumstances : like, what's up with the whole thing where poets and litbloggers all have to call for a new something which is almost invariably and old something? Is it, like, some kind of application for admission to something?

Has any of these exhortations ever had any effect at all? I'm a little nervous about what might happen if maybe ALL of these calls for newness actually succeeded at once. It could be chaos in the world of poetry and criticism. I know that the "new critics" are bad and everything, but can someone please tell me how "close reading" is a bad practice? Is the alternative some sort of oblivious reading? Can we detach the idea of sorting through a text from its apparently discredited apparent midth-century practitioners? Let's assume that nobody sensible is saying that close reading is all you need; surely it's indispensible?

I agree with what Bob G. As it happens, we have been talking about doing something very much like what he suggests about taking work in Poetry as the basis for discussion. It wouldn't be a contest, however, I don't think. As for his idea, again, from his blog, about visual poetry, well, you can see how having people discuss it turned out right here on Harriet: not very well, in my opinion.

I wish more people would respond to Bob's remarks. By the way, we have a prize for Criticism: the Randall Jarrell award I'm curious about the whole question of education. I was not an English major and never took a course in an English dept. I can still read poems pretty well. Then again, I found lots of good books in the library on my own to teach me about things I couldn't understand on my own. Contemporary poetry was not on the curriculum in the US and UK till the turn of the last century or so; people seemed to get by ok till then.

I'm not against the teaching of poetry; but nor do I find it any sort of panacea. What is it that we can, and cannot, teach ourselves about literature? That the new is the old is precisely the point. So let me reissue the old call to M. Bob, I don't know what you know of me or what your remark about my remark implies to you, but anyway.. I'm responding again because Don Share asked for more responses to you and also because I can't find the link he's mentioning to something of yours on Harriet.

Would you post that, please? So, yes, I thought Zapruder was complaining that not enough critics were engaging in the kind of critical analysis and explication that would help readers to appreciate contemporary poetry, and yes, I was refuting that. Those names are just the most recent that came to mind. About naming names of critics who have discussed language poetry and "told in reasonable detail what's in [the poems] and why it's of value"--wow. Wouldn't that be grand!

I have searched for such texts, finding only more language poetry packaged as criticism. In other words, prose as impenetrable as the poetry it professed to explicate. No, Silliman is no help, nor Perloff and I remember the hope I felt upon discovering her--before I read it, of course. The only analogy I can draw is to that of a cult, wherein only those who already believe derive any benefit from the teachings therein. About visual poetry, I know nothing, only enjoy it when I see it.

I liked the "concrete poetry" of the 70's, and I'm glad to see it's enjoying a new incarnation here. Jarrell's best criticism is in his reviews. I like to think I'm writing criticism when I review books. But the reviews in Rain Taxi or whatever, no offense That the New Critics get a bad rap do they, still, by the way is mostly due not to a careful reading of their work but to a received caricature about them: that they viewed the poem as a hermetically sealed object that must not be sullied by contact with history or biography.

The New Criticism leads fairly directly to de Man, interestingly enough. Don, some responses to your questions, below. I'm afraid the formatting will be lost Just a few painfully obvious questions, some already posed but not quite answered. Are book reviews the same thing as "criticism" or not? The salient differences are length, depth and focus of each, but both are engaged in "criticism" or should be. As far as I know there is no alternative to "close reading" I've written on this problem in a number of places, including for the Contemporary Poetry Review, "Invitation to a Far Reading," in I think.

In my review of Matthea Harvey's "Modern Life" also for the CPR, last year , I posited the idea of scanning as the new reading, since even ordinary reading, which requires thoughtful constructions of meaning line by line, cannot be applied to some contemporary poetry which demands a kind of surface scan, a drop in, drop out kind of attention, line by line.

I don't know. What I do know is that no one has yet come up with an alternative to close reading and that many contemporary poems cannot be read that way if they can be read at all. So we have reached an impasse. That's why a call for New Criticism is missing the point. You can't critique something, either an old way OR a new way, if you can't read it. And people can certanly teach themselves just about everything they need to know about analyzing a poem by lots of reading--source material and commentary, both.

It's just not that hard. What's harder is what the critics do or should do which is to form opinons on work and share them. That's all criticsm is, really, informed opinons, hopefully well-written and thoughtful. And everyone is capable of becoming informed and also of writing about poetry, though some write better than others, and some are more informed than others. Plenty of blogs, including this one, prove that. How do you "read" poems that are essentially unreadable I don't need to quote some do I?

I'm tired of making people mad ;-. We cannot, in such cases, build upon the old skill of reading. Then, beyond that, how do you evaluate, discuss, analyze, etc. And why should anyone try? Where's the pleasure in it? I agree with Michael. Garrick Davis has performed a great service to poets and critics with "Praising it New. I doubt I could articulate all the different types of prose about poetry, and heaven knows lots of writing about poetry straddles one or more of these categories, but I distinguish between them this way. Reviews seem intended for potential readers of a given book, whether the readers are poetry experts or novices, depending on the publication in which reviews appear.

Criticism seems to me to be an academic genre, in which poems serve the purpose of the critic to make a particular argument. General interest essays about poetry are the ones that make people unafraid of poetry and fall in love with it. Now I'm typing directly into the form for comments to see if my line breaks and paragraph breaks are maintained this way.

Hi Don, et al, I have some thoughts about your very interesting questions but I think I will wait to post them until the paragraph break has been brought back as an available formal device. Annie's hit on something, if you can find it in her response to one of my questions, and that is the matter of reading poems that are, as she calls them, "unreadable. I actually take great pleasure in such poems, which might better be called, oh, I dunno, not difficult, but I adore Dickinson yet remain unconvinced we really do, can, or should know what she was up to.

Ditto J. Prynne, whose work is a treasure and trove. Can a poem not leave much to the imagination? Can we not, at times, be silent, at least for a time, before a poem or other work of art? Don, ED is not unreadable. Of course not. This is when I begin to realize it's useless to talk on forums and blogs. People seem to hear only what they want to hear. What I mean is something like this gem from Bruce Andrews. Luna park astro density — a deflatulent neighborly cranial busride, an abridged jitney, a swerve shocks skeezier sublunar underkill dose wobble gato muttonskin chrysalis monks on acid: vocational turtle-like dissonance.

True-to-life means: let somebody else deal with it. Hypnosis victims impersonating our police — archeo-eerie calm lagniappe podunk saltlick mambo daikon gee-gaw slod — who loves the crude puffed-up ephemera. Eventually it stains little boyblue with smack-sights, a real bowwow browser semi-human rocks on victorian lava flow atop the steak, diving for gravy. The dismantling species, a groove makes it stick an endless flow of kid stuff; zero oomph, zero charisma, swallow it. Exhale astrophysically, overfund a secondary eruption. Well, but no, not this debate again, please. If you don't like Langpo, fine: I don't either.

The above is eminently ignorable. It is not, however, meant to be "read" the way you intend "read. Some poetry's primary impulse is not the creation of poems but the distribution of new criteria, or questions about the old. You may deplore this all you want. No need to sign on. What you may not do, however -- that is, if you want anyone to pay the slightest attention to anything you have to say -- is maintain that it simply is not "art" or that because it cannot be addressed according to the conventional strategies for such art close reading , it fails some sort of objective test.

At least. So please, let's not have it. Michael--Isn't Matthew saying this exact thing in the article above? I know you disagree with his readings of the poems, but the premise you're laying out here seems to me what he's saying, i. Let's move on from this tedious discussion and discuss the poems as they are, taken on their own terms. Am I misreading you both? It's not that I don't "like" it, Michael what's not to like ;- , and it's not only language poetry per se we're talking about here as I'm sure you know.

But I DO like your take on it: "Some poetry's primary impulse is not the creation of poems but the distribution of new criteria, or questions about the old. I wonder how Bruce Andrews feels about this. Only problem left for you, Michael, is to tell us which poems shouldn't be read, but simply dismissed or, I'm afraid no one will pay the slightest attention to what YOU have to say.

A proclamation does not an informed opinion make. This is why I didn't want to have this conversation. You're the one who reads what I wrote as a dismissal, Joan. This just isn't news, Joan. That's what I mean. You write as if you're completely unfamiliar with arguments that go back decades. And you have to contort them a good deal more than I did in order to conclude that they are counseling a dismissal of the work.

Themes in Howl

Rather, they counsel a different way of experiencing it. Travis, that's not the part of the essay I took issue with. We should indeed get past these stupid arguments, those of us who do not believe that criteria for art are handed down by God or genetics. What disappointed me about MZ's piece is that in their place he calls for banalities at least to judge from the practice he offers as exemplary. Thanks, Michael. That's what I thought, but sometimes the comments section can convince me that what I thought was very clear is muddy, and what seemed muddy is actually very clear.

But on this, we're clear. Or clear enough anyway. I'm re-reading "My Emily Dickinson" right now, and have been struck by how careful I have to be reading the poems. I think Don might be right, actually, about how we'll never quite know what she was up to. Names, please! Well, Michael, now we're getting somewhere. Just one more turn of the screw and I think we'll have it:. And that "different way" which clearly does not involve reading it, is.. Bathing in it? Smelling it? Wearing special glasses to view it? I'm open to your ideas. I think Ange Mlinko is a very good critic indeed; she has a new column in The Nation on linguistic issues not exactly criticism but worth a look.

Stephen Burt is, actually, somewhat overrated, I think: his ubiquity does him no favors, while his popularity belies claims about a lack of interest in poetry criticism. Dan Chiasson is interesting if not always as sharp as I'd like. Elif Batuman is doing very cool things with reviews, though not of poetry. Of course it involves reading it, Joan. I didn't say not to read it. I don't endorse their views, but if one is going to throw one's hands up at a poetic practice, doesn't it behoove one to learn what has already been written about it, particularly by those who engage in it?

I mean, I find Language poetry stupid, but not because I don't understand it: if you're truly baffled about what it's supposed to do for you as a reader, it would seem that reading what the poets themselves have to say on the subject is a pretty straightforward way of clearing up some of your confusion. Ah, here we go! Thank you. I will seek out some new names. Has anyone read any of Reuven Tsur's stuff? It is pretty dense and "academic"--in that it proceeds from a certain kind of linguistics--but I'm fascinated by it. It has changed the way I read, which I should point out is an active and variable process.

This is rich too. What happened? Were they teched by god and twitched it out? Automatic writing, perhaps? That's going back a few hundred years at least. Michael, your only problem as a thinker is that you've been in academia far too long. You can think for yourself. I am interested in a popular form of criticism -- in shorter pieces, i. Anyway world being what it is today I can just read some samples of the poems being discussed on the web if I want to find out if I'll like them or not. But those and other people who write criticism are some smart individuals, and what I can definitely learn from them is how they make their way through the poems.

I have my limitations as a reader, and want those limitations challenged by my reading of criticism. And even if I don't "like" the poems, or think they are "good," I can still learn a lot from how critics read through them. If people want to call that "close reading" I'm very happy with that term. I think most critics today go beyond the very narrow focus of New Critics on textual elements, and try to account for the role of the poem in the lives of the writer and reader.

Perloff and Vendler are the two major critics of their generation: clearly they each value wildly different things in poetry, but they use very similar methods to write about it, again a form of close reading. The problem with New Criticism is that it gave the impression that poems have very little to do with our lives, and also require special training to "understand. So often the way students that age are taught to read poetry is via a New Critical paradigm. Sadly, the definition of a poem for most general readers, is a speech act with a hidden meaning, accessible only to the poet and perhaps the rare expert, in which the words do not mean what they usually mean in real life.

I think the analogy Susan Denning made about changing oil is awesome, that says it exactly for me. And the point she makes about language is really interesting, that people think they should be able to understand a poem just because it's made of language. Of course that's true: people should be able to read poetry without any help whatsoever.

But it's also true that poetry has been systematically mishandled by teachers for so long, to the point where it can no longer be considered accidental. It is a great irony that, like it or not, we need criticism and yes even close reading, which came out of New Criticism itself, to rescue poetry from those very values. And yes! I completely agree with you, that a valuable reading of a great poem would help lead us right up to the biggest part of it, the wordless feeling.

The New Critics get reduced to caricatures of their actual positions enough without perpetuating it in a call for new criticism lowercase. This is lazy, Matthew. You summarize a particular received opinion about New Criticism -- fine; but how about noticing that that opinion is simply incorrect in its assumptions? Joan, I'm afraid that, like the Language poets, albeit for a very different reason, I cannot be held responsible for yr misreadings of my position.

They might intend, rather, a set of arguments, or a form of thinking about social conditions. The poem might point to these things allegorically, as an example of alternatives to given orders. Artworks do not signify on one level alone; sometimes they do not signify at all outside given contexts.

As I wrote, New Criticism "gave the impression" of those things. I could have said "unfortunately" gave that impression, in order to make absolutely clear that I wasn't making my own judgment about New Criticism, but trying to point out the undeniable fact that their ideas to some extent unfairly, but also to some extent because of what they were actually saying made their way into popular understandings of poetry, and the way it was taught.

In fact, the very essay you cite, The Formalist Critics, begins with Brooks's acknowledgment of this very point, that there has been a persistent misunderstanding of the New Critical position, that has made its way into the teaching of literature. The point is, this version of the New Critical ideas made its way widely and perniciously into the teaching and understanding of poetry over second half of the 20th century. And that's been a problem for a long time, as many people have pointed out before me.

I thought I'd pipe in briefly. Joan, there's ultimately no real shame in being continually lapped by the person you're trying to debate especially if that person is as impressively grounded as your foe here , but there is a certain amount of dignity in at least recognizing that that is occurring. Howe the peaks for me. Michael, if by this statement you mean that a poem may not be intended to be something read, first and formost, that's fine--e. As you can see, close reading applies in every kind of writing, and so it is important to say precisely what you mean.

But only if you wish to be understood, of course. If you wish instead to resort to citing sources instead of clearly following the logic of this argument, and clearly offering counter-arguments, that's your choice; however, it doesn't impress me that you can cite outside sources when you haven't yet made a cogent argument of your own for them to support. Tony Tost, may I pipe back that there is no real shame in letting me and others here know what you think instead of innundating me with your library list?

Reading recommendations are nice, but frankly, I have no idea who you are and have no reason so far to think you have good judgment re: reading matter. But maybe others here know you and can benefit from your list-making ability. The question is why, at the outset, if one didn't want the fight, would one climb back into the ring for the billionth time tonight? Michael, That's fine, I don't wish to have "the argument" either.

As for "the work"--sounds like you've done it, and I'm sure I won't. You win! Joan, I do fail to understand why you persist in asking the questions you raised here if you don't wish to do the work necessary to answer them. If you're actually interested in the questions, do the reading. If you're not, stop asking them. Michael, what you fail to understand is that "the questions" as you call them, are embedded in the discussion launched here by Zapruder's manifesto or whatever it is. I don't need to raise them. They are raised and they will remain raised.

Michael, as you ought to know, Yvor Winters was NOT one of the New Critics - so your argument about its "ethics", using him as an example, holds no water. It would be nice if we could get over some of these 20th-cent. Not to forget them, but to move on. Their idea was that poetry is not simply a "verbal construct" or an alternate form of "discourse".

Thus also it cannot be reduced to or equated with its hermeneutical "unpacking" or scholastic paraphrase. Poetry's form is "imitative" : a dramatic effect working through its audience's emotional and intellectual identifications. The term, like every single other term designating a group New York School poets; Cambridge critics; Chicago critics , does not designate a rigid body of individuals or doctrines.

Analysis of Poem Howl by Allen Ginsberg

Although the assertion that Winters can reasonably be discussed within the shifting boundaries of New Criticism is, as I noted, entirely uncontroversial. Yeah, Joan, except that you then asked how we were to read Bruce Andrews's poem -- the sort of poem you ALWAYS bring up in order to ask how one is supposed to read a certain kind of poetry of which it is held up as a synecdochal exemplar.

Then someone me, in about three instances has said, oh, if you're interested in how this poem is to be read, why not check out this work often a work by the author himself, in which he discusses the question of how his work is to be read , which addresses precisely that question? To which you reply: oh, come on, I can't be bothered with that nonsense. Or see any other discussion of them. It is hardly to the point that he didn't view himself as a New Critic: none of the others accepted the designation either. Just as none of the New York School accepts that designation.

My apologies if it wasn't clear, but the list of critical titles wasn't directed at you in particular, but in the spirit of a general question in this comment field as to who is doing poetry criticism that is worth standing behind or advocating for. I generally suppose others are curious as to that general question, and was wishing to reciprocate the suggestions various other people made concerning critics. Rasula is able to move beyond critical incomprehension, and I thought you might have some intellectual curiosity concerning that. My apologies, again, if I was mistaken.

Now that we have settled for once and for all the burning arguments about New Criticism and Language Poetry, maybe we can hear from some of the people who chimed in earlier. J had mentioned some of the issues with K education: if you're still there, could you expand on that further? And Michael Theune hello, we met once I remember , I know you have a separate site about this, but do you think you could talk about what you mean by your new template, that considers poems in terms of their turns and structure? I'm extremely curious, that's sounds super-interesting.

And Susan, thanks again so much for what I thought were really perceptive comments Williams: "A poem is a small or large machine made out of words," and Valery, "A poem is really a kind of machine for producing the poetic state of mind by means of words. Thanks again for reading, and for contributing to the conversation, and moving it forward into more interesting places. Check into it a little more, Michael. Just like you are trying to do. Winters rejected his designation as a New Critic on the very grounds for which you tried to use him as an example : the role of ethics in art.

First of all, I propose that we refrain, no pun intended, from deploying the word "unreadable. My point was misread, so I'll rewrite it: you can read anything; you may have trouble understanding what you read. If that's a bad thing, then Emily D. Milton is "unreadable" to many. So is Hart Crane. If some sort of readability is at issue, go ahead and throw the poetry babies out with the critical bathwater. Second, I propose that we quit using "New Criticism" as a shibboleth. Let's argufy for or against things without the pigeons and their musty old holes, please!

Lastly, and this is just a pet peeve, I despair of a thread about criticism that only mentions Empson and even Eliot by way of deciding whether to lump him in with the nasty old New Critics though I'm grateful for Michael's clearing up the history of the taxonomy here so we don't have to fuss about it any further. The roots are showing, and they're shallow. That's the thing, Don.

I don't think Michael did clear it up. Just because some people want to make life easy on themselves by lumping Yvor Winters with the New Critics, doesn't make a duck a pigeon. If you're tired, go to another thread. But let's set the record straight before we move on. I have nothing against the New Critics, by the way. They were very impressive. Matt Zapruder asks for more people to chime in and I hope someone like Mike Theune does, as Matt requests.

Show Your Work! by Matthew Zapruder | Poetry Foundation

I don't have anything to say myself about Bruce Andrews or the Chicago School, but I'm wondering, just to toss out the idea, if maybe one piece of this crisis of criticism many are sensing has to do with the general mode of address non-substantive variations taken into account the review and critical essay almost always adopt, as if such were merely natural: Critic on top, as axiological master; reader on all fours, taking notes Is such dominance always necessary? Why is it that all other forms of literary writing easily lend themselves to innovative, even iconoclastic gestures we don't think twice of it that unsettle the rituals of genre, while Criticism remains stuck in modalities of rhetoric and epistemic affect that have been around since, say, Kant?

Does criticism have to be "true"? Says Who? And really, given the general crisis of poetry proper, for What? The other New Critics rejected the label, too; people reject such labels all the time; that's because they're labels, not Platonic ideals. The record you speak of is amenable to different approaches. Was Herbert a Metaphysical poet? Was Harold Bloom a deconstructionist? These are not important questions.

Michael, up above there about 3 miles, you wrote : "The New Critics get reduced to caricatures of their actual positions enough without perpetuating it in a call for new criticism lowercase. Gosh, that's a very interesting kind of debating you do - you win no matter what! It's a kind of doublespeak. Again, Henry, way to miss the point. The point is hardly whether one person is definitely, absolutely among their ranks: these questions cannot be settled with any certitude.

We should not, however, be surprised that none of them had calling cards printed up reading "Cleanth Brooks, New Critic. Hi Kent, at the risk of changing the subject away from the particulars of the literary career Ivor Winters, what specifically do you think criticism could do to change for the better?

I think your question is very pertinent; it's one I thought a lot about while writing this essay. The comments stream seems to be a great opportunity to turn criticism into an ongoing collaboration, but what do you think the critic needs to do to encourage that? Oh, and if you don't mind call me Matthew, I have an irrational bias against the short version of my name. Again : Winters repeatedly distanced himself from the New Critics, and his stance on ethics cannot be used to support an argument defending the NC's attitude toward same.

You made a phony argument, face it. You further obfuscate matters by pretending that "New Criticism" is simply a latter-day academic designation, produced generations after the fact by people who weren't there at the time. When, or if, the formatting gets fixed here, I will post a long-ish exchange between Zapruder and myself from Contemporary Poetry Review wherein we discuss our various takes on a poem by Eric Baus called "While the somnambulist explains the proper way to carve the eyes from a pigeon.

Perhaps that poem and our commentary on it can serve as the basis for applying some of these often amorphous, necessarily off-the-point since the point is the poem itself , critical theories. Meanwhile, to Kent--it's always delightful when you enter a fray like this with a totally unexpected view. DIY criticism--but isn't that exactly what's happening here and all around the blogs and forums?

Do you really think more misunderstanding and chest beating like we're getting here is useful? I don't know about the dominance theory of criticism though the reader on all fours sounds fun being at the heart of a "crisis" because I don't think there's a crisis of criticism at all. This whole idea about calling for a "new criticism" seems like what happens with weather reporting these days; i.

There's no crisis in poetry criticism. If there's a crisis, it's with the poetry itself, not what can or cannot be said about it. Winters is usually described as a New Critic because his practices fit such a description: his stance on ethics can be used as I used it because when people dismiss the New Critics they often have him, among the others, in mind.

If you're going to include Eliot among the New Critics, you open yourself to precisely the same sorts of objections you make to my inclusion of Winters. We can say it this way if it pleases you: in certain of his practices Winters may reasonably be grouped with the New Critics which is why virtually everyone does so. Don, re: "First of all, I propose that we refrain, no pun intended, from deploying the word "unreadable.

No, no. Unreadable means no tutoring can or will exist for the text, it will remain incomprehensible because it not written to be understood--anywhere, anyhow, anytime. But--I take your point re: the word "read" which is really to "decipher" or to "decode" a mass of letters into a format of recognizable words, and that therefore everything is "readable" if it's in your own language, of course. So, I will agree to avoid the word "unreadable" but not replace it with "misreading" rather with "impenetrable.

Michael, you write : "his stance on ethics can be used as I used it because when people dismiss the New Critics they often have him, among the others, in mind". It would be very interesting to see a single piece of evidence that someone had Winters in mind when attacking the NCs position on aesthetic "autonomy". Robert Archambeau, from his blog essay which I linked to above, is very helpful here :.

Two other New Critics, W. Wimsatt and Monroe C. It is motivated by an interest in mathematics, or in physics. But if mathematics is for mathematical interest, why is not poetry for poetical interest? A true-blue critic like Eliot would certainly say that it is, though he would be unwilling to explain what he meant. I think I know why all critics do not answer as Eliot would: because criticism, a dilettante and ambiguous study, has not produced the terms in which poetic interest can be stated. Consequently Winters is obliged to think that mathematics is for mathematical interest — or so I suppose he thinks — but that poetry, in order that there may be an interest, must be for ethical interest.

And why ethical? Looking around among the stereotyped sorts of interest, he discovers, very likely, that ethical interest is as frequent in poetry any other one. Ransom takes a position that will advance New Criticism to the center of academic and literary authority. Winters, in this process, serves as a foil: he is the poet-critic who fails to grasp the autonomous principle; the representative of an outmoded, heteronomous aesthetic. Now for all of you who have grown weary of this debate : it's Friday, it's siesta time.

Go take a nap. The Authorities in the Major Schools will surely settle all these questions for us. Oh my God!!! What have I done? To deserve such a fate I realize now that You are my mentor, and I am only here by Your grace Once I was a mighty hunter, and now I am just prey Demons chasing after me, every night and ever day And now I am lost inside this nightmare, running scared through the chasms of hell And only You and You alone Lord , can break this Satan's spell You are my judge and jury, though I feel I have committed no crime As I look to the heavens above, from the depths of hell I realize now, that I can not turn back the hands of time!!!

Far be it from me to belabor a point, but I simply find that "impenetrable" is not a useful way to damn a poem. It's like saying that non-representational visual art is bad because it doesn't convey an actual picture of something. Here we'll agree to disagree, I think. The nub is what one thinks is "comprehensible," and I'm happy with poems that are no more comprehensible than the incomprehensible circumstances of living.

I also, needless to say, love poems that are immediately comprehensible. And I hate the idea of being "tutored" in a reading of a particular poem, but again, I'm an autodidact. Slightly off-topic, but I have seen this phenomenon here in this thread as well. I have noticed again and again in on line poetry debates the irony of those who, while defending 'Language', 'Flarf', 'experimental', 'Post-avant' or whatever other incomprehensible balderdash and poppycock you care to mention, simultaneously bemoan the general lack of interest in poetry these days.

Go figure. Talk about 'not getting it'. I will very briefly sketch out that potential here. In criticism, attention to the turn reveals connections between seemingly disparate kinds of poems and aesthetics. Paying attention to the fact that a lot of poems turn, then, is one way, if one wants, to break down distinctions between established groups of poems. However, paying attention to exquisite, thrilling, truly witty, or sublime turns also offers a way to create new distinctions.

The turn provides one way to turn the attention to individual, singular poems. And recognizing poems with particularly intriguing turns offers one way to divide oeuvres and schools: some of the poems in any oeuvre or school have turns that are flat and unsurprising, and some have turns that are random, and some have turns that amaze. Such thinking has many applications. In fact, my current project is writing a book which spells out these applications.

One quick example: in a review of recent haiku, I considered haiku not as a formal unit but as a structural unit incorporating a turn. Not many of the haiku I reviewed were, in that new light, at all good—no surprises there—but I do think that I also made the value of those few haiku that did have structural intrigue clear.

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Attention to turns also allowed me to disregard many previous distinctions between haiku—poet, school, etc—and to value individual haiku across the spectrum of poets and schools. The really substantive application for the turn, however, is in pedagogy, which might be considered enacted criticism. In pedagogy, the turn offers much. The turn is, or easily can be made to seem, familiar to students—everyday language includes all kinds of argumentative, dramatic, and emotional turns; with a little training, students high school…perhaps junior high?

Reminded that they themselves in fact are sophisticated language users, students then can recognize and appreciate turns in poems, and perhaps be more ready, able, and willing to apply such recognition and appreciation to not only accessible poetry but also more seemingly difficult poetry. No, just describe. A fact. And it's not at all like saying non-representational art is bad because it doesn't convey an actual picture of something. Jeez, Don, talk about pigeon-holing. Give me a little more credit than that 'ol stereotype.

Ok, so seems a bit disingenuous to pretend a poem or any writing or speaking for that matter is simply incomprehensible to me, when it's obviously so to anyone, but I'll play along. As far as being tutored, you are being tutored in how a poem is to be read every time you read one, by the poem itself--the diction, style, tone, voice, line breaks--the poem itself "teaches" you how to read it.

No need to leave your autodidact mode at all to learn how a poem works. Mike, wow. That's terrific. Obviously one of the most satisfying things is that your method takes the word "verse" literally, from vertere, to turn. When people have asked me what I think the difference is between poetry and prose I have sometimes, stumblingly, tried to articulate what you have so eloquently written: that the nature of poetry is intimately related to that turn, literally in line breaks but more generally of the mind, in prose poems as well.

Clearly you have done much more thinking about this than I, and I really look forward to reading more of what you have to say, and your book when it is done! I didn't mean any stereotype, but I did mean the analogy. I disbelieve in any monolithic "comprehensibility," and I know you do, too. I don't agree that a condition of poetry is that it must be "comprehensible" in any particular sense to any particular reader. It may be; it may not be. Nor do I particularly know what "the poem itself" refers to.

The poem isn't teaching me how to read or, or anything at all. It is, as we say, what it is. I bring things to it And further: I'm not the same "reader" I was before. I "read" Whitman in the 11th grade - uncomprehendingly. He gets clearer to me by the day. Dickinson seemed very clear to me as a teenager, and less so to me now by the day. Texts also change Dickinson and Whitman simply do not exist in stable texts in which tutor or teach anybody - but that's a whole nother story.

I take pleasure and not necessarily instruction in almost every poem I read - and I read a lot of them. What I understand of each changes over time, as if there were time enough to comprehend what may be in a poem. If a poem or kind of poetry challenges my sensibilities, beliefs, and sense of what I know - so much the better for me. As Empson said, an important purpose of imaginative literature is to engage with people who have different values than we do. Um, should read: Dickinson and Whitman simply do not exist in stable texts which tutor or teach anybody.

Folks are right to say these things have been debated before; let me add a link to Jarrell's famous essay on the "obscurity" of the modern poet:. But I am doing this ordinary reader an injustice: it was not the Public, nodding over its lunch-pail, but the educated reader, the reader the universities have trained, who a few weeks ago, to the Public's sympathetic delight, put together this list of the world's dullest books. Some of the time this is true; some of the time the reverse is true: the poet seems difficult because he is not read, because the reader is not accustomed to reading his or any other poetry.

But most of the time neither is a cause Jarrell's is one of the more recent complaints. Wordsworth said something similar, about the bias toward exciting novels over strenuous verse. Or say, Beowulf, by Anon. So is it obscurity, or just a kind of required stringency in listening? Novels prose along, setting up a familiar scene So maybe there's something to be said for Joan's notion that the poem itself shows us how to read it. Nobody else is going to. Thank you, Mr.

Share, for that link.


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The essay is very interesting. Thanks, Matthew. Mark's been contributing longer essay-reviews to Pleiades for the past few years off the top of my head: on James Tate, on Helen Vendler's Invisible Listeners, and on Joshua Clover's The Totality for Kids , and they are terrific acts of criticism.

That's not to say that I agree with everything in them, but rather to say that they are attentive, probing, and insightful. Mark also has a great satiric essay that plays with the distinction between poetry playing at radicalism and "reely reely radical" writing--very smart, very funny Check out his "This Old Poem" feature, where he re-writes poems, improving and then ranking them. If that ain't showing your work, I don't know what is! Matthew, to respond to your question, and at the risk of having "Kay" come after me again, may I say for now that I do make a specific proposal about reviewing in the upcoming Mayday forum I mentioned a couple days back.

That's coming out in just a few weeks, and if I laid out my modest idea therein here, well, that might make the editors mad! In any case, the idea's a call to at least partially recover what used to be the paratextual norm of reviewing practice, and it's one I believe would liven poetry criticism up a good deal were it more widely employed. But the promised replies, in toto, are sure to be more interesting than my brief polemic Barry Schwabsky cc'd me his riposte the other day, and if it's any indication, things could get entertaining.

It is quite liberal, but my biological father was not a McCarthy Democrat. On hindsight I guess the difference is negligible. Both opposed Humphrey and the hawkish ways he tended to for the appeasement of his boss, President Johnson. As I write in my memoir, "We worshiped the echoes of our summers, trying to stretch the evenings out until school began again.

An awning had slotted aluminum and watched over the front step of our rambler. On one side of the house, on the window of the room where I shared a room with my sister, was a shade that caught the shadow of winded lilac pedals escaping their source in the corner of our backyard. For at least three summers, before my life's trajectory changed, there was a commonality.

There were friends out all the time, in the evening, when the gnats and plastic wiffle ball bats got in your eye. It was when anything could happen, when the immediate neighborhood condoned our play, our antics, the nightly quests to infuse infinity with the merits of today. We tramped the block, policing our quarters, looking to make a buck for our chores. And then, when the sun had painted the sky an amber fading to blue, when crows instinctively knew what guarded our block from marauding cars, from the spaces in the maples that parted on cue, we'd collect on the lawn of her house.

The girl with the three older brothers I never knew, who babysat for me and sis sometimes, was usually doing something in the garage—perhaps waiting for us younger kids. She gave use rides, one at a time, like at an amusement park, spinning us from her tanned arms. Our screams felt oblivion as we neared, as we came closer to exhaustion, as did she. In the winter of , a car came down 73rd in Aldrich Avenue. Things changed. It was in front of our house, more or less, in front of the girl's house who had provided those halcyon evenings of spinning fun. I had random brain activity, like fuzz on a television.

It flickered, my eyes darted aimlessly, tirelessly, as the Vietnam War escalated. In veterans gathered in Detroit, on my sixth birthday, for war crimes to be investigated. From March until I could walk on my own, my winters and summers were spent rehabilitating and getting to know my dad in probably the tightest bond we had before or since.

The lapping sounds of Mile Lacs Lake spoke to me. Our abruptly swayed car sampled the creature comforts of the swallowed town of Garrison, with Ojibwa moccasin feet dancing around the fish that hid in tall grass. The heads of fish waited in rusty tin pans outside shuttered homes for neighborhood dogs. For my two cents, for the development of my sixth sense for that fishy smell, Mile Lacs was the denominator. It separated measured time, time that lasts for its increments. South of it existed a life of pressure, of commitment, of responsibility, of affluence.

North of it lived a life of whimsy, an uncalulated world, endless summers of living life by the drop. The human eye could not see across it and for me, at six, peering over the backseat of a station wagon, it looked every bit more infinitesimal. Air was insulted in the cabin land of ore, red stains on tire and rusty iron smell and then the brined breeze to dissipate it all, I anticipated the loon's call. It became clock-work, two and a half hours from the cities. We arrived as the sun was in its final setting throes, deep orange conniptions casting lures over Tame Fish Lake, its adjustments, its catnip for loons.

We arrived hearing the calls of water skiers on their final runs, the outboards gurgling on their last siphon of gas. That is where I learned to walk again. It was harder the second time. Callings in life rarely manifest themselves, and my true passion was not apparent to me. After a high school experience which left me sure of my verbal ability, I enrolled at Winona State University. If for nothing better, to be away from a home dynamic that was combustible, conducive to my rebellion.

I may have favored English courses more, lending them my full attention and getting better grades than I did in anything else. Writing was on the wall. Still, by my sophomore year in I had declared sociology as my major area of study. I remember an exercise in one class that asked us to write where we saw ourselves in five years. I thought of the Bob Newhart Show in the '70s.

His character's life was how I saw myself in the future, by I wanted to live in a high-rise apartment, have a beautiful working wife like Emily, get to my own work by public transportation, and be a noted psychologist. WSU is not a school for me, for someone who is not numerically inclined. Math, either by nature or subconscious resistance, is out of my command to learn. WSU had a general requirement. I went north. The University of Minnesota in Duluth had no math requirement in their liberal arts program.

I filed the proper papers and transferred to UMD. All was on track, group dynamics, general psychology, basic sociology courses, and then statistics hit. I was spooked and took a sabbatical. I needed time off to regroup, to find my true passion, what had collected dust on the wall, had been calling out in glib voices from little witticisms I'd put on my dorm room door at WSU.

Maybe going back was a mistake, and the tools to be a writer could have somewhat more cheaply been acquired by attending classes at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. I returned in the fall of I read the classics. Atrocious poetry was coaxed from a mind hell-bent at becoming a writer.

I was prolific out of a sheer need to be. I took creative writing courses to learn the current mechanics of writing, of story formations, of the types of conflict people like to read. I muscled through, even faring satisfactorily in a summer school course in botany, which did require the slightest of analytic thinking. I found myself in Minneapolis in , in urban decay, in the drug-free zone of the Stevens Community. For four years I lived among the panhandlers and lesser pussy prostitutes. On most corners, under a nefarious awning, existed a check cashing outlet, a government repository for welfare mothers, who usually turned tricks in-between checks.

At night I was serenaded, my ear was tuned to the imminence of a siren filling the night with sound, red, and blue, careening toward a fight or the local crack house. It wasn't by choice that I lived there. My second job post-college was at a transitional care center in the area, what the local cops said was the worst crime location in Minneapolis.

At 25, who worries about getting shot. I don't drive, and in my zeal to write, frown on taking more time out of my day on public transportation. Logistically, situationally, living in that area was my fate. In the time I spent in that den of iniquities I was mugged only once. For a writer it was an experience I'll always see as valuable. I saw how a whole other section of society lived, one I would never see in Richfield, at least not outside my door. My first publication was in a minuscule, likely out-of-print, journal called the Unicorn Reader out of Manitoba.

This was in after my third post college job at a health club. I saw that the club opened each day. I let in the Yuppies, the tight-faced runners, and the hush-puppies. The latter consisted of the septu and octogenarians, the often bitchy, impossible-to-please whirlpool sages. I kept a journal of my days at the club and pieced together half a dozen short stories.

One—The Den of Antiquities—was published. I was elated! Someone recognized me work, my years of infatuation with the written word and how it can be presented. When people, at the turn of the century, thought the electronic world as they knew it was going to collapse, I felt more inclined to write than ever. I partied like it was ! If the grid had crashed, I'd have had evidence of a thriving and optimistic civilization, one though with doubts, in its beginning, about the mortality of its technology.

A few more publications scattered the years. I was chomping at the bit to write something substantive. Except for a chapter from which the title is derived, based on true events, the book is dry, filled with theory and conjecture, with mind-numbing facts describing the bloody, often counter-productive, path faith and religion have taken from The Crusades to September 11, If the book generates any kind of following, it will most likely be of the occult type. Many have. I did not, at least at age The title Agent of Orange Trafford, was a word-play that is missed by most. It had nothing to do with the debilitating chemical used to remove foliage in Vietnam.