9 dic. 2011

Vendler vs. Dove

What I find remarkable about Vendler's review of Dove's anthology in the NYRB is the racial animus. It's fine to include Billy Collins or Mary Oliver, poets of negligible aesthetic category, but not a figure as historically significant as Baraka? It is fine to include a mediocrity like Pinsky, but not a significant black modernist like Tolson? A thoroughly unsdistinguished poet like William Stafford is fine, but let's make sure there's not too many black poets! That seems to be the logic behind Vendler's review, which comes back repeatedly to (what she feels is) the overrepresentation of poets from minority groups. Nobody worries about the overrepresentation of mediocre white guys, as usual.

I could criticize Dove's anthology on numerous inclusions and exclusions. Anybody could play that game. No Coolidge? No Irby? Gregory Orr is there but not David Shapiro? Is Alice Notley there? It's a kind of stupid game, in the end, but the way Vendler plays it is particularly inept, devoting special attention to how Dove describes or represents the work of black poets and movements.

Ironically, Vendler is the most high-powered poet to ever champion Dove's own poetry. I guess that's an alliance that is definitively broken.

6 comentarios:

Andrew Shields dijo...

That really hits the nail on the head, Jonathan. I think the Mayhew-Vendler relationship is a no-starter.


I'm just going to put the links here in case people don't know what you're referring to:

Helen Vendler's review of Rita Dove's anthology of 20th-century American poetry:


Dove's response:


Vance Maverick dijo...

Thanks for the links, Andrew. Apart from, as Jonathan says, the specific animus, what got me first was

No century in the evolution of poetry in English ever had 175 poets worth reading, so why are we being asked to sample so many poets of little or no lasting value?

I can sort of understand the focus of a canoneer like Vendler on poets of great lasting value. But to equate that order of value with being "worth reading" at all seems crazy. I happen to be reading a book where a poem of May Sarton's is quoted. It's not great, or even very good, but it's certainly worth reading. And I am sure there are 175 poets in English more interesting than Sarton in the 20th century. What a cramped view of the world.

Andrew Shields dijo...

Vance, your emphasis on that point (which others have also singled out for discussion) makes me wonder about anthologies of 19th-century American poetry published in 1911 (if there were any that year or around that time). I'm sure they seem to us today to be full of "poets of little or no lasting value" -- and yet many of the poems by more or less forgotten poets would surely be "worth reading" for one reason or another (if only to give us information about paths that were trodden in the past that have since been abandoned).

Jordan dijo...

There's a touch of the red queen in the concept of "worth reading" -- off with these other poets' heads.

To be more charitable: No one knows how much time is left. If you're on an austerity plan for time, sure, don't read Melvin Tolson, or May Sarton.

If you love the field, though, and you want to understand the context in which the writers you love struggled, and if you have reason to believe the previous guides to the field bore prejudices you don't share, why not read everything you find and decide for yourself.

Jonathan dijo...

The red queen or exterminating angel, the idea of the canon held up by Bloom or Vendler, the idea that you could just arbitrarily limit what should be read in advance. Part of the pleasure is in going through a lot of poetry to see what interests YOU. I would have never found Jean Valentine if I followed Bloom or even Perloff.

Vance Maverick dijo...

Andrew, Stedman's American Anthology (1900) may be more than you bargained for. (Dickinson is there, hearteningly.) He opens the introduction with words Vendler (or Dove) might have heeded: "The reader will comprehend at once that this book was not designed as a Treasury of imperishable American poems."