Monday, December 24, 2007

feeling relegated

If you found Dan Chiasson's review (Nov 19) of the work of poets Mark Strand and Robert Hass a little frustrating and dissatisfying, and put it down after the first paragraph or two (I did), consider this:

"Biographical criticism often trivializes a poem by ignoring its larger philosophical questions and reducing it to simplistic emotions. That Strand chooses to omit biographical details should tell readers that he wants the focus on other, larger issues, and that the poems are driven by powerful, complex emotions that have more than one source."

In a letter from Sharon Bryan, Dec 24&31.

"Chiasson's review of Robert Hass's new book of poems characterizes Hass as primarily an autobiographical poet whose work consists of 'small dinner parties and hikes' or 'a recipe for onion soup' . . . Yet Hass undercuts these pleasures by situating the lyric within a larger history of violence, suffering, and collective indifference. In eliding the political and historical work contexts of Hass's work, Chiasson replicates the very 'American amnesia' that Hass indicts and furthers our cultural tendency to relegate poetry to an art of the quotidian."

In a letter from Jessica Fisher and Margaret Ronda, same.

Both letters seem to fault Chiasson with a mis-reading of the poets' work as biographical, (worse) quotidian and, finally, apolitical. But I have to say, I was guilty of that very same mis-reading of Hass and Strand (based on only slight exposure to their work) before I started Chiasson's review, and I wasn't interested in reading Chiasson state the obvious. I think the question is WHY are these poets open to such a misreading. If we cannot address that - and, as they appear in TNY, these letters don't - we're pretty much stuck, poetry-wise.


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