September 19, 2012


Excerpt from  The Best American Poetry of 2012

To write poetry, to read it, to go to poetry readings, is a way of being in the world, and there will always be those who get suspicious and feel that maybe Plato was right to exclude the poets from his ideal Republic. Poetry, as they see it, is a form of “divine madness” that can lead you astray like a drug. It may be that all criticism has its origin in this rationalist rejection of the poet’s way of being in the world. Faced with uncomprehending or dismissive criticism, the young poet might take heart from something T. S. Eliot once wrote: “Upon giving the matter a little attention, we perceive that criticism, far from being a simple and orderly field of beneficent activity, from which impostors can be readily ejected, is no better than a Sunday park of contending and contentious orators, who have not even arrived at the articulation of their differences.” To counter the din of contentious oratory, very little of which will help the writer (or reader) in any useful way, I turn instinctively to the rhetorical question that animates Shakespeare’s sonnet sixty-five: “How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea, / Whose action is no stronger than a flower?”

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