THE POETRY WRECK: Selected Essays, 1950-1970 by Karl Shapiro

THE POETRY WRECK: Selected Essays, 1950-1970

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Karl Shapiro's vitriol is no less caustic this time around than it was in his 1968 collection, To Abolish Children. If anything, his grudge against ""the Tradition"" has reached new lows for wrongheadedness and overkill. His putative victims are the big four Moderns -- Eliot, Pound, Yeats, Auden -- each of whom is trounced in a separate retrospective. Pound is ""a fool""; Yeats is ""a sociological ass,"" etc. For this sort of ex cathedra judgment, Shapiro is in a class of his own (never mind what he says about Eliot's pronouncements or Pound's ravings). He throws common sense right out the window along with mythic form, Symbolism, the poetry of ideas, classicism and High Culture, and simply forges ahead in pursuit of ""the direct expression of feeling."" It's wildly exhilarating and liberating, as romanticism always is. What does it matter that he's motivated by the petty envy of ""an outsider""? The great Modernists are these days so sacrosanct they're calcified -- the Mount Rushmore of contemporary criticism. Shapiro's sledgehammer blows bring them back to life as flesh-and-blood fallible writers. Meanwhile, his attempt to replace the old figureheads with choices of his own -- Williams, Whitman, Henry Miller (yes, a poet), Jarrell -- doesn't do so well. Defense is not Shapiro's metier, even if the piece on Miller has its element of daring. He's better at provocation, which seems to generate dialogue, to encourage a rethinking of the ideas received from the Academy -- which is in fact just as intolerant and didactic as Karl Shapiro says it is. Who is a kind of anti-Academy unto. . .Himself.

Pub Date: March 24th, 1975
Publisher: Random House