Quincy R. Lehr. delivers a stinging post-mortem on New Formalism, describing it as a spent force:
Literary references, parodies, and revisitations abounded in New Formalist poetry. The effect, though, was frequently that of reading a Fodor’s guidebook rather than living in a place, a romp though the museum of the Tradition rather than an engagement with the European past extending into the present. Many New Formalists developed a particular fondness for the Canon Poem, a slightly rejigged account of an ancient myth either done straight or folded into some scene of middle-class banality. Some poets were able to make the canon poem at least episodically interesting (notably A. E. Stallings in her first book, Archaic Smile, though the sheer number of the things got numbing at times), but at its worst, the canon poem reflected a sort of prissy preciousness. Take these lines from the poem “To Her Book” in Catherine Savage Brosman’s Breakwater:(Illustration by John Holcroft)
Farewell, then. May your readers be those birds
which by an Orphic song were freely caught,
embracing as their own the poet’s words,
the very shape and countenance of thought.
Oh, please. One thinks of an amateur Renaissance music ensemble in some out-of-the-way minor university town, eking tunes out of viols and sackbuts and utterly convinced that they are somehow contributing to the preservation of the Great Western Tradition.