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
“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.”