Why Does William Logan Hate Me?

He doesn’t even know me. But I know he hates me. If you’ve read his criticism, you know he likely hates you too. If you haven’t come across him yet, don’t change. This man writes his own poems and a lot of criticism about contemporary poetry and poets. He hates almost all of it and almost all of them. He gets a lot of attention for hating.

Call me old fashioned. Call me sappy. Call me analytically and evaluatively [sic] challenged. But I don’t get it? Naomi Shihab Nye says, “I try to be a friend to all poems.” I admire her for that, and try to be that too. I think that poems, all the arts, can be useful, practical in the most soulful of ways. And this profoundly important reason-for-their-being deserves respect.

Even those poems that will never find their way into the everlasting deserve caring attention and those who wrote them should not be humiliated for trying.

Logan is trying to exterminate what he believes is bad poetry. Gee, Bill, I can take care of myself, thank you. When and how did this “bad poetry,” as you define it, hurt the world? Logan would take the ball away from the guy who shoots hoops in his driveway because he doesn’t measure up to William Butler Lebron James.

There was a time when poetry’s ability to open up worlds both inner and outer was considered magical, spiritual, even animistic. Here were simple markings on a page, and for some reason the way these markings mixed together created sounds and experiences and a kind of proprioceptive feeling, a way of knowing a new reality, the access to which could come in no other way.

Perhaps you have read The Spell of the Sensuous, in which author David Abram describes how before print, the world itself was full of non-verbal languages. There was the language of the landscape, of the plants and animals, of sky, cloud, rain, of look, smell, taste, of pottery and drawing, light and dream. Everything had a language; everything “spoke,” and everyone lived listening and responding to these languages. Poetry was a way of life and grew to be a way of knowing.

William Logan says that he cares about the “state of poetry,” and about forming so-called “critical evaluations.” Clearly, I don’t. I always hope that if we would care about everything else, then the art we make would arrive from that caring. And the way the arts are being judged would  be revealed for what it is: the equivalent of a dog show. Worse than a dog show, but a judging that draws sole attention to the judge of the best in show. To hell with the dogs.

I remember asking the professor who led me to literature, what he was feeling when he retired. “Sad,” he replied. “Not because of retiring, but because of what has happened to what I care about. Literature is being replaced by a way of talking about literature that dismisses the value of the work and merely draws our attention to those showing off what they believe is intelligence.”

I also remember realizing that a poem can be, in the best sense, the end of a conversation because it can lead to a rich and reflective silence.

I trust that the odds are about a zillion to one that Logan ever sees any of my poems. I’m not fond of being defenseless and don’t want to be humiliated. Who does? And defenseless and humiliated is what I would feel if he skewered my wistful verses about my dog or my daughter or my wife or the trees along the creek out back. They each have their language, and they each speak clearly to me when I listen.

I certainly don’t believe when you’ve heard one tree speak its language, you’ve heard them all, when you’ve written an elegy for your grandmother that it’s already been written, that the poem you write when your kid rides off for the first time on a bike has been written a hundred times before. As Paul Zimmer wrote, “God-damn the man who calls this sentimental.”

I hope to keep coming across people who respond to our poems these ways:

” . . . He didn’t look as if he thought

bad poems were dangerous, the way some poets do.
If they were baseball executives they’d plot

to destroy sandlots everywhere so that the game
could be saved from children.”

from “Mingus at the Showplace” by William Matthews

And

“Let us remember that in the end we go to poetry for one reason: so that we might more fully inhabit our lives and the world in which we live them, and if we more fully inhabit these things, we might be less apt to destroy both.”–Christian Wiman

I know that William Logan isn’t going to stop hating me. I’ll have to carry that around. The weight is lifted by a Jim Harrison quote a dear friend sent to me. He said, “I would rather give full vent to all human loss and disappointments and take a chance at being corny, than die a smartass.”


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15 thoughts on “Why Does William Logan Hate Me?

  1. What I like is the way you’re speaking from a position of passion rather
    than simply fuming back at Logan. You can’t shout him down.
    But he can’t touch this kind of soulfulness and calm either.
    Very very well put, Jack. By the way, went to a going away party
    for Sally Smits last night. Sad she’s leaving. But happy she gets to
    do so as well.

  2. He sounds like an ass. I question the value of art if it only serves to make people feel superior or inferior. If the purpose is reduced to intellectual snobbery, I’ll pass. Of course there is a difference between poetry and therapy – if it’s only value is in expressing the poet’s dear, sweet self, it may not be great poetry – but does mediocrity justify cruelty? Under great, kind teachers, I have watched poets (myself included) progress from writing self-indulgent tripe to writing wonderful poems. This dude should learn to use his wisdom to nurture, rather than to destroy. If he really cared about the “state of poetry,” he’s know that great poets are nurtured and don’t spring fully formed from the head of the Poetry Gods.

  3. I admittedly don’t know this “William Logan”, his volumes of poetry, or his salty critique. What I do know is you, Jack. Sure, it’s been a while, but I’m certain there is not too much different about you – the above post a testament to that fact.

    I feel specifically equipped to respond to this “bad poetry” topic because I spent last evening sorting through the last of the basement-flood items, which led to flipping through every Opus entry I ever reviewed, my first chapbook, and every submission from nearly every writing workshop I ever took – fiction, nonfiction, and poetry – almost all of which survived the water. (gratuitous plug for Rubbermaid bins)

    There were great poems, bad poems, hopeful critiques, blissful praise, and everything in between. There were margin notes I will treasure, absurd suggestions I chuckled at, and even memories of my own, since forgotten, surviving only in a poem. But the beauty of every one of them was in the fact that some unsuspecting poet cut themselves open and poured their life onto the page, hoping that the captive audience of your workshops would understand, and help them become something more closely resembling themselves. You not only put your wistful verses out there, but taught us how to do the same, with confidence. Whether they ended up skewered or not, you taught us to be brave and honest with our words, and to care for and tend to them.

    After all is said and done, it seems that Logan will sit alone, clutching his citations, awards, reviews and criticism to his chest while you enjoy the company of loving people who – though some may not be the world’s *greatest* poets (self included) – appreciate your view of poetry as a way to become a greater self (insert sentimental chrysalis / butterfly analogy), and speak our own stories, and to be honest with our world and find a place for our voice … even in the face of heartless, impersonal, lambasting critique.

    I feel bad for Logan’s students. And am proud to be one of yours.

  4. YEAH. Science, when done clumsily, can still be important, especially to the scientist (and her field protocol for next year…) and young scientists are *expected* to wander around for awhile and produce replicas of experiments that a million other young scientists have done. It’s how they learn to be scientists. It’s also how we know so much about earthworms, some of which has turned out to be really useful. There’s no “Eureka”, no sudden revelation that changes a high-school senior into a Nobel prize winner in the blink of an eye– you do your experiment badly several times before you do it well, and if you’re lucky, you look at your data and say “Huh. That’s kind of funny” and you tweak and tweak for five years before you realize you might actually be on to something.

    This is really astoundingly similar to the process of writing, at least for me. Mr. William Logan can take a walk off a pier.

  5. You kick ass Jack.

    Your words can apply to many writing faculty who dis student poetry because it is lacking. We all start as beginners and it is not that we should praise all verse that needs work, but we should praise one little item in the poem that can be grown into something better. Positive encouragement always works with child rearing and “student rearing.”

    I’m printing your comments off for my students.

  6. Logan hath some kinda style but you have CLASS
    TO answer his critiques without sword or sass.
    I DO call you sappy (myself, too)
    Oh, no–now he’ll read this and skewer my doggerel review!

    I await your reading and the reading of you
    GK is so shy, but he allotted you TWO
    Friend to Naomi, to all poems, too:
    Keep writing Jack–we old-fashioneds shall, too!

  7. Ah, I love reading anti-Logan comments! It reminds me of how privileged I am to know him as a person. Once while waiting outside of his office, I overheard a student telling him, “When I first met you, I thought you were an asshole,” in which he responded with an appreciative laugh. I doubt you will ever hear anyone who was once his student describe him as mean-spirited or bitter or cranky or negative. Logan is one of those rare professors who not only loves his role as a university educator, but is exceptionally generous, caring, and encouraging of his students.

    I had a professor this year who was the type that tried to “be a friend to all poems.” While I enjoyed the openmindedness and flexibility of this style, I also realized that I did not learn as much. Logan’s bold, honest opinions are footholds for aspiring poets. Had he been a friend to all of my poems, I would, most likely, still be a blissfully mediocre writer today. I am thankful for his sarcastic, but most importantly, sincere criticism.

    Spoiler Alert! The man behind the brutal similes and unforgiving reviews–the most hated man in American poetry!–is actually really nice guy!!

    Surprising, huh?

    I feel bad for those who have never been Logan’s student. I am EXTREMELY proud to be one of his.

    • Ash, thanks for commenting. It’s good to hear your Mr. Logan is a nice guy in person.

      For what it’s worth I do think it’s possible to be a friend to all poems while offering a critical and careful response. What are friends for?

  8. so much fake soul is just exactly raping the reader for soul juice. bad writing should sit in it’s own toilet — crap in its own bar — jerk in private. if you post something that you’re pretending — that is to say tending to us — as poetry, you will catch the attention of people who must write poetry to live. and, they will watch you write the poem — look at the x-ray and see how you should be writing short stories — flushing the chat-chat jerking out of your writer.

    logan’s an ass, and a crappy poet, but he does have an ear. if poetry were as important to you as dope or wine or something, you’d be just as pissed when someone tried to convince you that shit was shinola.

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