Join the conversation
Subscribe to Our Emails
Boston Review is a public space for the discussion of ideas and culture. Sign up for our newsletters and don’t miss a thing.
Who are the modernists heirs? This high bar seems to include Zukofsky but not Auden.
December 6, 2012
With Responses From
Dec 6, 2012
1 Min read time
A poetic responses to Marjorie Perloff.
Who Are the Modernists' Heirs?
M.P. is right: much free verse exists to give a pass
to naïfs who only learned of poems from a glass:
They mine themselves. Whether it sparkles or not,
contains a memorable metaphor, or revels in the perfect mot
is beside the point. “What it's like to be X in America”
reduces questions of style to Times v. Helvetica.
But M.P. must know this stuff has an audience.
A mirror-seeking one. It ever was, and will be hence.
So “mainstream” is a red herring. Her real stakes are:
Who are the heirs of the Modernists? This high bar
seems to include Stein, Zukofsky but not Auden, Frost
or Yeats (it seems Irish, English, and Scots are lost
in the discussion). The sensate mind’s delight
in poets’ play of contradictions, in those who can write
and not simply play a culture game—why, that enterprise
is one that Crane, Moore, Eliot, et al. would recognize.
The chiasmus that girds Elizabethan wit undoes
the charmless binaries our good editors propose
(“experimental/conservative”), and which Beelzebub
handing out his everlasting syllabub
for the infernal class on contem. po. that awaits us,
might use to put marbles in our mouths, while he baits us
with fragment upon toneless fragment
mocking, “That is not what I meant at all; that is not what I meant. . . .”
And mock this doggerel though you will, if it does not amuse
I’ll compose (god help us) “gray area” text so abstract and morose
You’ll beg for the alternative: transcription, word for word,
of a New York Times article on modern motherhood,
thus marrying our two most stimulating poetic trends.
And may the Muse forgive me if this exercise offends!
...we need your help. Confronting the many challenges of COVID-19—from the medical to the economic, the social to the political—demands all the moral and deliberative clarity we can muster. In Thinking in a Pandemic, we’ve organized the latest arguments from doctors and epidemiologists, philosophers and economists, legal scholars and historians, activists and citizens, as they think not just through this moment but beyond it. While much remains uncertain, Boston Review’s responsibility to public reason is sure. That’s why you’ll never see a paywall or ads. It also means that we rely on you, our readers, for support. If you like what you read here, pledge your contribution to keep it free for everyone by making a tax-deductible donation.
Vital reading on politics, literature, and more in your inbox
Readers Also Liked
Printing Note: For best printing results try turning on any options your web browser's print dialog makes available for printing backgrounds and background graphics.