Saturday, 25 July 2015

Vendler Venting

Calling her criticism "condescending waffle," Daniel Swift spells out his unhappiness with Helen Vendler's new book of criticism, The Ocean, the Bird and the Scholar:
This is a collection of essays and reviews from various magazines and occasions, and they apparently have not been edited for republication, so the tone varies considerably. Occasionally, Vendler sounds as though she is addressing postgraduates; occasionally, her claims are so bland that she might be composing a Wikipedia entry (on The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot: ‘it revolutionised modern verse’). Some of the pieces are superb: a powerful essay on how Robert Lowell’s poetry uses syntax to perform the feeling of depression, and an amazingly subtle account of ‘if’ and ‘but’ in the poems of Wallace Stevens. These essays have only one thing in common: they are all about poets Vendler loves. But—in contrast to the recent essay collection by the poet and translator Michael Hofmann, Where Have You Been?, which covers some of the same ground—she never makes you want to go away and read the poets she has been discussing.

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