Saturday, March 10, 2007

If that isn't the pot calling the kettle black!

What is it about poets that makes them love to fight? This seem to exist across the poetic landscape -- from the youngest to oldest, from the most successful to the least.

It is hardly surprising, then, that Dana Goodyear published an article in a recent New Yorker that was a somewhat harsh examination of the Ms. Money-Bags Poetry magazine, largely full of points that the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Poets made 20 years ago (Hello!). But, what happened next was increasingly interesting.

In today's New York Times Book Review (which is actually TOMORROW'S book review -- but this is too long of a story to go into here) David Orr doesn't jump on the anti-Poetry Foundation bandwagon. Rather he takes the New Yorker to task. His primary thesis is that it is hypocritical for the New Yorker to criticize the Poetry Foundation because they, themselves, commit too many poetry sins. He points out that, "Poets may get frustrated with the Poetry Foundation; they may complain; they may disagree with certain projects. But the Poetry Foundation, however misguided or impolitic, hasn't given up on poetry. The question is: Has the New Yorker?

Hmmm....sound familiar? Doesn't the primary book review magazine in the United States have a similar responsibility to poetry?

I want pose some questions and PLEASE comment!

How many poetry books has the Times reviewed in the past year? How many of these poets were under forty years old? How many poets does it employ as reviewers? Three to my knowledge. How many times has a poets you love had books reviewed? How many poets do you know PERSONALLY who have had their book reviewed?

How often does the Times review, as Orr notes of the New Yorker, THEIR OWN friends employees, and associates?

Mr. Orr, you should read your own paper! There was a big article about this two months ago in the Public Editor!

How many times has the Book Review mentioned Nathaniel Tarn, Fanny Howe, Charles Bernstein, Anne Waldman, so on and so forth? Does the Book Review know these people are poets?

I remember one year ago, the Times published poetry reviews every week for about three months. We were all so in shock -- it was a major topic of conversation.

Orr criticizes Goodyear for quoting Billy Collins -- hey, wait a minute! -- doesn't the Times review ALL of Billy's books?


Anonymous said...

A couple responses to this:

1) I, too, wish the NY Times reviewed more poetry books. Also, I have trouble with some aspects of the Poetry Foundation and Barr, in particular. but isn't this rather beside the point? The point is that an editor at The New Yorker has written a clear attack on the Poetry Foundation, much of which is underhanded, disingenuous and lame. And the other point is that The New Yorker itself has clearly abdicated responsibility for publishing real poetry criticism or, for that matter, good poems. OK, The New York Times has, too, but it doesn't actually negate the truth of Orr's piece.

2) Last I checked, Dana Goodyear is an editor at the New Yorker and, so, pretty clearly speaks for that department of the magazine. Thus, one could reasonably say that The New Yorker has attacked The Poetry Foundation. David Orr, on the other hand, is a freelancer. I know this may SEEM like shades of gray, but it's not. When an editor writes a piece in her own magazine she does put forward the appearance of speaking for the magazine. You might say that Orr could have chosen a better stage for his rebuttal, but it's pretty clear to me that Orr is speaking for himself and not, as it were, for the house.

Jennifer Bartlett said...

Thank you so much for your comment.

I may be wrong... but I am pretty sure that David Orr is a STAFF writer, not a freelancer. I don't mean to be too critical, but it seems Orr's energies -- which are clearly to help poetry -- might be better spent urging his own publisher to cover more poetry.

Anonymous said...

Orr is DEFINITELY a freelance critic. I know it. Check here, the NBBC website, where he's on the board of directors: If he were with the NYT, he'd be listed as such. He's a freelancer who is often given assignments at the NYTBR, and elsewhere. My point stands.

Anonymous said...

(actually, I've heard that David Orr is actually employed as a lawyer. He picks up freelance assignments on the side.)

Jennifer Bartlett said...

I guess I was mistaken. I don't have the article any more -- but I was sure it said David Orr is the poetry staff writer for the Book Review. Would someone let me know?

Jennifer Bartlett said...

Another way of looking at it would be Orr' s career as a laywer furthers MY point; the Times cannot even find it in their hearts to hire a POET to discuss poetry.

This also reminds me of Orr's criticism of the New Yorker interviewing Billy Collins. Of course, no poet is going to go on record publically against Poetry, The New Yorker, or otherwise. It's too dangerous.

Anonymous said...

Why should they hire a poet to discuss poetry? We don't ask that all critics of fiction be novelists, do we? We don't ask that all those who discuss memoirs be memoirists? We ask only that the critic know the field well enough to speak intelligently about it. Orr clearly knows a lot about contemporary poetry.

In fact, I think much of what's WRONG with poetry criticism these days is that all the critics are also poets. It adds to the sense of insularity poets complain about all the time.

Put another way: I'm constantly hearing complaints that only poets read poetry, that no one but poets enters the sphere to discuss poetry. When we finally get one -- a smart freelancer (who, to be sure, I don't always agree with) who doesn't publish poetry but is interested enough to put a lot of his critical efforts behind the art -- we just complain.

Look: the New York Times has finally found a guy who isn't a poet (and, so, can speak honestly & critically about poetry w/o fear of repercussions, who loves the stuff and reads it and writes clearly about it. He spends time discussing it for general readers, thus helping to popularize the art -- but in a serious, non-goofy way. We should be damned grateful David Orr exists--and encourage the NYT in this one baby-step toward taking the art more seriously.

But my experience is that other poets mostly just complain about Orr. And, OK: I was miffed when he dissed Reginald Shepherd in the NYT. And if he disses me, I'll be miffed, too. But, c'mon! If we're going to put the books out there, we have to expect that they'll be taken serious and not loved by all. And if we're going to complain about how we don't have general readers, then we oughtn't bitch about a guy who might steer a few our way.

And, obviously, since Orr IS a lawyer, he ain't doing it for the money. Trust me: the NYT pays for shit. He's doing it because he's interested.

And my other points still stand: Orr is writing as a freelancer on an opinion page. Goodyear wrote as an editor in an article. That's a big difference, friends. And Goodyear is scurrilous, to boot.

There you go. Back to you.

Jennifer Bartlett said...

You win! All good arguments.

Note: I am not of the camp complaining about poets only reading poets -- of don't think I have complained about that in my essay -- perhaps I did and forgot. My only point was the Times should have more poets/poetry!

NB: Who are you? Take off your mask!

Ron Hogan said...

"Another way of looking at it would be Orr' s career as a laywer furthers MY point; the Times cannot even find it in their hearts to hire a POET to discuss poetry."

So you're saying Wallace Stevens wasn't a poet, because he was really an insurance salesman?