Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Dark Horses and Poetry

I almost always enjoy John Gallaher’s blog, and on the days I don’t enjoy it, I find it provoking. As in his blog from a couple of days ago, when he seems to imply that all a difficult poet needs is someone to explain it to the rest of us…

And then there’s the strong critic who needs the strong poet to talk about. The great example of that in recent memory is how much Harold Bloom had to do with John Ashbery’s ascendance, and, in so doing, Harold Bloom’s ascendance. Helen Vendler, likewise, was instrumental in the late 80s, early 90s reception or Jorie Graham. And, more recently, I think Stephen Burt has been as helpful as Ron Silliman in the ascendancy of Rae Armantrout. Poets of a certain difficulty, or, as I dislike the word “difficulty” in reference to art, poets of a certain unfamiliarity, need, if they are going to be read by a larger community than the already introduced, someone to herald their presence. (And here’s the rub, of course, as that herald will also be heralding his or her presence . . . which brings up all those questions of intention and motivation that any such herald instantly gets smeared with.)

Ron Padgett, for example, could be more popular than Kay Ryan, if only there was someone to wave his work in front of the large audience, and point to it, and say a few introductory remarks.

If history serves me correctly, Ashbery didn’t need anyone to herald his presence. He got it beginning with his first book of poems "Some Trees" (for which he won the Yale Younger Series Award). I’m not so sure about the Vendler/Graham symbiosis Gallaher talks about though do think that Rae Armantrout didn’t need the applause of Stephen Burt to be read. Meanwhile, Kay Ryan’s work took yeaaaaaaars to receive any sort of wide attention and I wouldn’t categorize her poems as “difficult.” For a long time, Ron Padget WAS more popular than Kay Ryan if readership is any metric. I think these are just talented poets, some of which took a long time to reach a wide audience. While I think critics can ignite interest in particular poets, and picking a dark horse in a big race can win a bit of cash, in the long run, winning races still depends on the character and speed of the horse. I'm just saying...

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