As a nonacademic poet and critic (for years he was a business executive), Gioia is rightfully appalled at the capture of poetry by the English departments of the land, and at how, in this enervating captivity, it has become trivialized, been made uniform, and lost all general readership. In his title essay, Gioia makes an unobjectionable analysis of how this happened, and even laudably goes further with a few corrective ideas. Some seem easy enough to accomplish (such as encouraging poets at poetry readings to read others' poetry as well as their own), others harder (encouraging a more rigorous criticism of poetry, Ö la Randall Jarrell, not the usual praise-your-pals stuff). Having made so lucid a diagnosis, Gioia the critic opens himself up to inevitable and somewhat unenviable scrutiny—as he gets down to cases in the essays that follow. He is no Jarrell himself. He aims a howitzer at Robert Bly (which is a little like shooting fish in a barrel); devotes much approving (and vaguely self-congratulatory) energy to the echt-bourgeois-businessman-poet Wallace Stevens; and makes self-consciously lonely pleas for Robinson Jeffers, Weldon Kees, and Ted Kooser—poets whose marginality Gioia prefers to see as neglect rather than as mediocrity. The sense you finally come away with is wistfulness: a good mind paddling manfully on, looking for an intellectual mainstream it never quite finds—and that may never have been there in the first place.
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