Thoughts on the writing of “modern” poetry

Dan Phillips recently started an accidental firestorm when he took it upon himself to criticize modern poetry. In particular, he criticized the poetry recommended by Karsten Piper. I protest that I was not at the center of the storm – I said to myself, “I will not say anything,” but at last the words burned in my heart and I opened my mouth:

Piper made the assertion that “the most important question is, how did you respond to the poem when you read it? Did you feel anything that you weren’t already feeling today? Did you think anything that you hadn’t already thought about this afternoon?” I protested that these are not the most important questions, and that, in fact they are bad questions. I offered instead that you should start with more basic questions, such as “what does this poem actually say?” and “does it say it well?” I was told that these kinds of questions are pedagogically troublesome, because they leave no connection between the reader and the poem. They are “well-suited to argument” but “don’t treat poetry as poetry.” And that’s the point where I really had to say something, and since I have a rule that any writing which takes up a substantial amount of my free time by rights ought also to appear on the blog, you have the argument that lays before you. (Below the fold.) Continue reading “Thoughts on the writing of “modern” poetry”