Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Debating Rich

Reviewing Adrienne Rich's Later Poems, Ange Mlinko worries about the late poet's legacy.
Rich’s signature style—fragmentary (even halting), earnest, direct—did not alter much in the four decades covered by Later Poems. “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader,” Robert Frost warned; I thought of this maxim more than once while reading this thick volume. I also thought of Wallace Stevens’s distinction between the poetry of war and the poetry of a work of the imagination; I thought of Keats writing “We hate poetry that has a palpable design upon us” and his insistence that the poetic character “has as much delight in conceiving an Iago as an Imogen.” I thought of Sir Philip Sidney, who died of a gangrenous battle injury in his early 30s, writing of the poet: “he goeth hand in hand with nature, not enclosed within the narrow warrant of her gifts, but freely ranging within the zodiac of his own wit.” These were poets who made a strong distinction between art and the world, imagination and reality. Rich belonged to a tradition that collapsed that distinction. The fact that such poetry attracts large, committed audiences is not lost on either its proponents or its detractors. Even so, most poets are not willing to give up their prerogative to be uncommitted: ambiguous, ambivalent, negatively capable and, yes, playful. 
Carol Muske-Dukes is having none of it:
O those devil-may-care playful trickster poets—lazily stretching in their negatively capable workout clothes! So different than the rest of us, worker-drone poets, dully collapsing the distinction between art and the world and imagination and reality! Does Mlinko really believe that poets like Rich never offered themselves up to the aleatory in composing a poem—as ANY POET does who imagines the world, or worlds, familiar and strange... even (as implied) while dreaming of attracting those "large committed audiences"? Excuse me, is she talking about a Springsteen concert or "open mic" at the bookstore?

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