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February 02, 2005

Striking Blows Against God-Awful Poetry

by Ron Hogan

August Kleinzahler hates Garrison Keillor's Good Poems, and he really hates The Writer's Almanac:

"Everything that comes out of his mouth in that treacly baritone, which occasionally releases into a highpitched, breathless tremolo when he wants to convey emotion, is a sermon. The homily runs something like this: we are good, if foolish and weak, and may gain redemption through compassion, laughing at ourselves, and bad poetry badly read."

Not that Kleinzahler's universally down on Good Poems: "On balance, it's a rotten collection I wouldn't recommend to anyone, but," he confesses, "it's not so bad as it might have been." Meanwhile, over in Boston Comment, Joan Houlihan attacks poets who won't give it a rest already: "James Tate, Philip Levine and Mary Oliver have each produced more than 16 books of poetry. Whatever has driven this production, it is clear from the trajectory of all three poets that something must stop it." The idea that it's okay--even desirable--to stop writing at some point and recharge one's batteries is a very tempting one; I'm not sure if I fully agree with it yet, but Houlihan's examples of the "marked deterioration in quality" in the later verse of her chosen trio do present a good argument for her case. Though I kinda like the Levine, really, and the problem with Oliver isn't that her late poems are worse; they're just as bad (or good, if you prefer) but longer. And Houlihan and Kleinzahler would both get a good cackle out of the fact that Oliver's "Wild Geese" is reprinted in Good Poems...

(Darned if I can remember which blogs I picked these links from, but if you keep using that "book culture" list off to the right on the home page, you might find them, and you'll enjoy yourself in the process.)

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