Russell Smith's recent column extolling the excellence of current Canadian poetry—and in which Michael Lista and I come in for praise—seems to have hit a nerve with Bryan Sentes.
"Smith eulogizes Lista and Starnino for being “tough-minded” and “stern”; The Walrus “bravely publishes poems” under the aegis of “the truculent Michael Lista”; and Starnino, in his role as a “combative tastemaker”, has helped “purge” Canadian poetry of “a certain kind of weepy folksiness” Smith blames on the baleful influence of Al Purdy. One’s unsure whether Smith is writing about editor-critics, austerity hawk finance ministers, or Jean Charest in his late showdown with Quebec’s students. In any case, such Iron Lady bluster is as tiresome as it is empty."
Sentes goes on to compare Smith's article to another which appeared the same day:
"How refreshing, then, to read another recent article by poet Matthew Tierney whose purpose, like Smith’s, is to share his excitement about the “fierce mojo” his contemporaries are working. Despite the ironically humble persona he adopts, the catholicity of Tierney’s list of poets who make his “head spin” reveals him to be one of those “poets, it seems, who committed themselves early, read widely, and got down to it”. The sixteen poets he names (including Michael Lista) are mindbogglingly various, writing inventively from and out of (i.e. away from) every school of composition I know of that’s active in North American English-language poetry, let alone Canadian."As it happens, Matthew is a friend whose new book shows a great deal of that "fierce mojo." I guess I'm curious, however, as to how Lista and I—who clearly fall short of the "flexible, charitable, and gregarious" benchmark Sentes sets for his critics—could be the same people who, together, have published, promoted and reviewed many of the poets on Tierney's "mindbogglingly various" list, including Tierney himself! How did two hate-everything cranks manage to outwit themselves so thoroughly?
We really need to stop associating sharp tastes with literary conservatism—a hallmark of lazy bastardism.