Notes on Michael Dirda's Review of Ted Kooser's Splitting an Order
You need to write a book on how to get so excited over such a banal poem, “Painting the Barn,” by established-order ex-insurance executive, former poet laureate of the USA Ted Kooser, “the most [apart from Billy Collins] accessible and enjoyable major poet in America,” according to you. Have you ever wondered what “major poet” implies besides linguistically deft? Clearly, it implies a poet who never makes waves, never goes against the grain of literary established order, and thus never bucks the ivory-tower system. Is that good? Methinks not at all!
Perhaps Kooser is “enjoyable” to you, but why should he be enjoyable to me and other individual thinkers? Sure, hordes of academics could likely write 350-page dissertations on that poem, but does that make it great… or even simply good? And isn’t great subjective? Yet you and so many other established-order cogs would have people believe it is an objective term. Now, what I look for in a poem is obviously NOT what you look for: unusual wisdom, as opposed to sentimentality, for example, over a dead dog. What you and other literati of the established-order do is promote the innocuous, like Ted Kooser, because the innocuous does not upset established-order literati. It is really quite that simple.
Few poems contain unusual wisdom like, for example, Villon’s “Estoit-il lors temps de moy taire?,” Jeffers’ “Finally I say let demagogues and world-redeemers babble/ their emptiness/ To empty ears; twice duped is too much./ Walk on gaunt shores and avoid the people” and Neruda’s “Nací para golpear las puertas, para empuñar los golpes,/ para encender las últimas y arrinconadas sombras/en donde se alimenta la araña venenosa./ Serán nombrados.”
What we need are poets with guts like Villon, who dared criticize the ruling Parisian theocrats during his time and risked death by hanging. Where are those poets today in America who RISK in their poetry upsetting established-order apparatchiks, who promote coopted, innocuous poetry… and thus weaken literature, dulling its blade, rendering it palatable for the established order?
Why not try being original and not push celebrity literati in your literati columns? Why not seek out rare poets who really do RISK speaking rude truth in their verse—RISK not getting tenure, RISK not getting grants, RISK not getting invitations, RISK not getting awards, RISK not getting reviewed in your columns? Nature and feelings are fine in poetry, BUT poetry should NOT be limited to those things. “Such imagery from a vanishing America further enforces the overall autumnal quality of these recent poems,” you write regarding Kooser’s new book. Wow. “Overall autumnal quality”! Now, that’s a good one! What about overall RISK and bold TRUTH TELLING?
“But if you reflexively dismiss modern verse as dauntingly esoteric or embarrassingly corny or tediously singsong, you need to try Ted Kooser,” you conclude. Rather than “dauntingly esoteric,” I find modern verse devoid of any criticism at all of the academic/literary established order machinery, professors, and favored icons diligently working to keep poetry castrated.