Wednesday, 29 September 2010

I love this essay by Matthew Zapruder

Matthew Zapruder's essay "Show Your Work" (Poetry Foundation, September, 2010) calls for a kind of criticism that works toward an understanding of poetry, and not merely toward an evaluation (thumbs up or thumbs down) that relies on the taste and force of personality of the critic (which is mostly useless to a reader anyway). His focus is American poetry, but the thesis can apply anywhere, especially in Canada. Here is a sample:

What is the purpose of literary criticism? Among other things, to guide the reader past his or her resistance. Most art, subtly or aggressively, resists the familiar. Poetry in particular suffers from this resistance, because poets take the material that we depend on to operate in and make sense of the world (language), and bend it to other, often seemingly obscure, purposes.

Readers, sophisticated and beginner, need critics to explain why and how poets are using language for these different purposes, and what those purposes might be. Our attachment to familiar language is powerful, and understandable. Without critics, we will hold on to the familiar and be unable to accept that there are other uses for language, that there is new and exciting poetry all around us.

Critics can do one of at least two things. The first is simply to insist that something is good, or bad, and rely on the force of personality or reputation to convince people. The second is to write, with focus and clarity, about how the piece of art works, what choices the artist has made, and how that might affect a reader. Only then can the reader grow to meet work that is unfamiliar, that he or she does not yet have the capacity to love.

Read the whole essay here.


Lemon Hound said...

And a few more, including Matthew, on reviewing, many specifically in Canada:

Ken Babstock
Michael Scharf
Vanessa Place
Steven W. Beattie
Marjorie Perloff
Elizabeth Bachinsky
Maureen N. McLane
Christian Bok
Aaron Kunin
Evie Shockley
Matthew Zapruder
Rob Winger
Mark Wallace
Michael Turner
Jonathan Ball
Jennifer Scappettone
Ange Mlinko
Jacob McArthur Mooney
Annie Finch
Gregory Betts
Anselm Berrigan
Ben Friedlander
Emily Warn
Michael Robbins
Eileen Myles
Mitchell Parry
Ron Silliman
Brian Joseph Davis
Stephen Burt
Catherine Daly
Michael Bryson
Daisy Fried
Steve Collis
Jordan Davis

Salvatore Ala said...

I agree that the essay by Mathew Zapruder strikes some important chords; however, some of it reminds me of American pragmaticism, and the poet trapped in the jail of words. In my aging mind and body I still long for what the American poet Robert Bly called dragon-smoke.But perhaps I am a throwback to another time.