Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Decline of American Poetry?

So now we have a new eruption of an old ruckus. Is the present only a degraded version of the past? In this latest outburst, the present = contemporary poetry, and the past = pre-contemporary poetry, yet again. Ah, the Golden Age has galloped over the horizon once more, or so Mark Edmundson proclaims, in an article only partly available online. Other poets and readers have started to respond to Edmundson, and of the responses that I’ve seen, two stand out. Julia Cohen offers a wonderfully rigorous, passionate, point-by-point blog-post rebuttal that almost (almost) makes you pity Edmundson for sitting himself down like the proverbial ducks in a shooting gallery, and Seth Abramson responds exuberantly in the Huffington Post. Edmundson seems not to consider the possibility that some readers might find the lines he quotes from Robert Lowell cliché and self-important, just as he seems not to consider the possible suggestiveness of the poems he decries, poems that he misrepresents as too understated or too merely Wordsworthian. Meanwhile, I give Cohen credit for taking down all those ducks and Abramson credit for what amounts to an exuberant manifesto for contemporary poetic enthusiasm.

For a rejoinder to Edmundson, I return to the statement on my website: “I like the dogmatism that theorizes a style. I do not like the dogmatism that scorns the potential pleasure, however rejected, of another style.” The styles and poems that Edmundson rejects can serve the purposes he calls us to as well as they serve the supposedly smaller purposes that he fears they limit themselves to. For all the reasons that Cohen lays out, I’ll go with Abramson’s exuberance instead of Edmundson’s sad-faced jeremiad of Bloomian decline.

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