Skip to main content

Open Field

CNQ (Canadian Notes and Queries) ran a balanced, if at times robustly critical, review of Open Field this summer last (2007), written by James Pollock. He noted the energy of the editor, and also the surprising, and somewhat disappointing fact that Americans seem almost entirely disinterested in Canadian poets (as this was the first poetry anthology of Canadians published in America for 40 years or more). Pollock singled out a half dozen poets who he felt deserved their place in the book, including, I am pleased to say, myself.

He writes: "I also enjoyed the poems of Todd Swift very much, most of them skillful and moving lyrics in the stoical English tradition of Auden and Larkin .... I am especially attracted to his witty homage to Wallace Stevens. .... How could one not be charmed by such a display of metaphorical inventiveness, particularly if one shares Swift's love for Wallace Stevens (and who doesn't?). Of all the best poets in Open Field, Swift is the one I was least familiar with, and I am grateful to Queyras for bringing him to my admiring attention." The other poets he singles out include George Elliott Clarke and Karen Solie.

As for his question, who doesn't like Wallace Stevens - well, I'd bet the editor of Picador's poetry imprint, for one. You know, Michael Donaghy wrote about his dislike of "poems about poetry" - and surely Stevens' oeuvre consists mainly of that topic. Indeed, Stevens has never been much in favour over here in the UK, for reasons I am currently researching. Mainly, many British critics have mistrusted his "flamboyant" interest in language, often as ornament, his interest in aesthetics (and poetics and theory), and his obvious French influences. From the 1950s on, a sort of bluff indifference, even hatred, of anything too "rhetorical" or self-reflexive has marked the mainstream British approach to poetry - meaning that poet-critics like Mark Ford, who study and appreciate Stevens and Ashbery, tend to be in something of a minority (however enthusiastic) in England.

As Edmund Wilson observed, in Axel's Castle, the English poetic tradition has not favoured a too-intensive emphasis on theoretical musings - most of the poets in the English tradition are rather empirical, even pragmatic. I'd suggest the divide here, often described as mainstream versus experimental is rather more often simply between those interested in theory, or poems-about-poetry, and those who are not. Stevens, of course, is seen as a dandy - and is therefore also not entirely appreciated by the more severe avant-garde practitioners in the UK - his sense of humour, for one, is often seen as too whimsical.

Therefore, followers of the Stevens line, in Britain, such as myself, tend to get very short shrift indeed - seen as too deeply into theory for a no-nonsense Worsdworthian poet (like, say, Heaney) - but far too decadent to be one of the Prynne school. A shame really. Sadly, third parties in the UK don't do that well. Stevens is in such a party. Meanwhile, Pollock ends his review with something of an apt lament: "just and clear-eyed critics of Canadian poetry have their job cut out for them. And we desperately need their services." He could have even cut out the "Canadian" part, or inserted the word "British". Clear-eyed most criticism of poetry ain't.
1 comment

Popular posts from this blog

AMERICA PSYCHO

According to the latest CBS, ABC, etc, polls, Clinton is still likely to beat Trump - by percentile odds of 66% to 33% and change. But the current popular vote is much closer, probably tied with the error of margin, around 44% each. Trump has to win more key battleground states to win, and may not - but he is ahead in Florida...

We will all know, in a week, whether we live in a world gone madder, or just relatively mad.

While it seems likely calmer heads will prevail, the recent Brexit win shows that polls can mislead, especially when one of the options is considered a bit embarrassing, rude or even racist - and Trump qualifies for these, at least.

If 42-45% of Americans admit they would vote for Trump, what does that say about the ones not so vocal? For surely, they must be there, as well. Some of the undecided will slide, and more likely they will slide to the wilder and more exciting fringe candidate. As may the libertarians.

Eyewear predicts that Trump will just about manage to win th…

DANGER, MAN

Like a crazed killer clown, whether we are thrilled, horrified, shocked, or angered (or all of these) by Donald Trump, we cannot claim to be rid of him just yet. He bestrides the world stage like a silverback gorilla (according to one British thug), or a bad analogy, but he is there, a figure, no longer of fun, but grave concern.

There has long been a history of misogynistic behaviour in American gangster culture - one thinks of the grapefruit in the face in The Public Enemy, or Sinatra throwing a woman out of his hotel room and later commenting he didn't realise there was a pool below to break her fall, or the polluted womb in Pacino'sScarface... and of course, some gangsta rap is also sexist.  American culture has a difficult way with handling the combined aspects of male power, and male privilege, that, especially in heteronormative capitalist enclaves, where money/pussy both become grabbable, reified objects and objectives (The Wolf of Wall Street for instance), an ugly fus…

OSCAR SMOSHCAR

The Oscars - Academy Awards officially - were once huge cultural events - in 1975, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr, Shirley MacLaineandBob Hope co-hosted, for example - and Best Picture noms included The Conversation and Chinatown. Godfather Part 2 won. Last two years, movies titled Birdman and Spotlight won, and the hosts and those films are retrospectively minor, trifling. This year, some important, resonant films are up for consideration - including Hidden Figures and Moonlight, two favourites of this blog. Viola Davis and Denzel Washington will hopefully win for their sterling performances in Fences. However, La La Land - the most superficial and empty Best Picture contender since Gigi in 1959 (which beat Vertigo) - could smite all comers, and render this year's awards historically trivial, even idiotic.

The Oscars often opt for safe, optimistic films, or safe, pessimistic films, that are usually about white men (less often, white women) finding their path to doing the right thin…