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Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Is Carmine Starnino an Enfant Terrible?

Poetry magazine is one of the oldest, most respected, and significant magazines devoted to poetry in the world. The September 2008 issue has a few lively letters, by and about Canadian poets, that are worth reading in full. In the UK, there tends to be radio silence when it comes to much North American poetry, so it is good to see the Canadian-US border opening to more convivial mutual dialogue. Evan Jones, a good younger Canadian poet studying for a PhD in Manchester, writes to defend Al Purdy, the quintessential free-verse rowdyman of Canadian poetry, from his detractor(s).

And, Nicholas Bradley describes Carmine Starnino, one of Canada's leading younger poet-critics, as Canada's literary enfant terrible. Eyewear would like to weigh in on these controversies in the following way: a) Al Purdy is over-rated in Canada, but under-rated elsewhere, and it is likely he is as important for North American poetry of the 20th century as a Robert Creeley; b) Carmine Starnino is an infant no more, and increasingly less terrible - his critical interventions were a broom that Canada's niceness required - and, as he has developed his argument, especially in The New Canon, his major anthology - his position has become both more impressive, and less abruptly confrontational. Starnino became infamous mainly for being honest about his likes and dislikes, and failing to curry favour with the powers-that-be, taking on canonical reputations built on sand and trumped-up reps.

Where, for instance, is the poet-critic in Britain willing to ask (perhaps incorrectly) the true merits of a Paterson, a Raine, or a Duffy? Imagine the poet who would critique them all heavily (along with Prynne, and every other hero of the moment), and you would have someone of Starnino's ilk; then imagine the poet was writing at least as well as, say, anyone else under the age of 50, in formally flexible style. He's becoming formidable.
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