Poetry-as-Usual: A Brief Review of a Brief Review
“The key reason for the smallness of the audience for poetry is that people associate poetry with school…”
What to scribble when famous poets and their hagiographers have nothing to say and never dare transgress the space space of literary careerism? Well, Elizabeth Lund, publishing house pusher, uh, literary critic at Washington Post, illustrates the problem in her brief essay, “Best poetry of the month: New collections by Billy Collins and Robert Pinsky,” where not an iota of criticism… just the kind of praise one might expect from a court jester introducing a poet laureate to a Hillarius, the First. In this case, it’s two poet laureates.
Well, at least Lund didn’t take the leap to best poetry of the century. However, she still piles it on. For Collins’ The Rain in Portugal, it’s “dry wit,” “subtle twists,” “fanciful landscape,” “richness,” “biting moments,” and “evocative and lovely.” The subjects Collins writes about, anything but critical of the academic/literary hand that feeds him so royally, include conversations with an imaginary sister, thoughts of Shakespeare on an airplane, Keith Richards holding up the world, a weathervane, a “veggie platter that suggests the impermanence of life,” and “an encounter with a brown rabbit that could be the late Seamus Heaney.” Yes, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud! No, I am not making these things up, nor apparently is Lund, who argues: “The constant shifting in these pieces provides both pleasure and a vivid example of how one’s thoughts, when unrestrained, can lead to unexpected destinations.” Allow me to paraphrase with a touch of hard-core critique: “how one’s thoughts, when restrained, can lead to expected destinations… of utter fluff.”
As for the other academic careerist and distinguished fellow, Pinsky—you know, that working-class guy from New Jersey—, it’s always quite safe to write about subjects distant from his little cocoon in the intellectually corrupt academy, in this case, Boston University, which was accorded the worst rating for freedom of speech by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (see
https://www.thefire.org/schools/boston-university/ and https://www.thefire.org/speech-code-of-the-month-boston-university/). Does Pinsky care about that rating? Not in the least! Yet how can a poet survive chained down by speech codes (i.e., without freedom of speech)? Well, Pinsky apparently has no problem at all with that!
His latest book, At the Foundling Hospital,” concerns “infants, slaves and immigrants.” Perhaps a plea for open borders or support for Black Lives Matter? Again, Lund lauds with unoriginal high-brow laudanum: “tremendous range of thought,” “ability to weave together complex ideas into resonant poems,” “sophisticated,” “refined music,” “gives voice to various gods,” and forces “readers to rethink the wisdom they know.” Man, Pinsky must be a god himself to be able to do all of that! Lord, I better get down on my prayer rug. Hmm. And brilliantly Lund decides the poems themselves are foundlings. Oh, she’ll surely bring a smile to Pinsky!
Yes, poet laureates Billy Collins and Robert Pinsky not only have the stamp of Congressional approval, but, according to Lund, provide fascinating, if not brilliant, examples of… absolute fluff.
Collins is wrong regarding the key reason for small poetry audiences. The real reason is gutless, boring poets, not to mention gutless, boring poetry reviews, and poetry devoid of purpose. Well, he gets it right with that regard: “Poetry is aimless, not purposeful. The poem is dancing with itself.”