THE POET AS JOURNALIST: Life at The New Republic by Reed Whittemore

THE POET AS JOURNALIST: Life at The New Republic

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The title ironically suggests some of Whittemore's feelings about a 1969-73 stint as New Republic literary editor, TV critic (""Sedulus""), and general culture-watcher. He is uneasy with the assumption that poets are doing something remarkable by being journalists. He is equally uneasy with artists and academics smugly uncontaminated by Midcult or The Computer or Profit-and-Loss; TV advertisers smugly contaminated by them; anti-social humanistic jargon; the anti-humanist jargon of social concern. Whittemore's pieces on poetry (a weird gamut from an Eliot obit to a review of a Cole Porter anthology) are full of large and small insights, but run more to airy crystallizations (""When [Kenneth Koch's] poems fall over the edge they are last-days-of-the-empire stuff"") than systematic analysis. The ""Sedulus"" columns predictably inveigh against electronic brainwashing without really grappling with what is being washed and what we can do about it. A series of essays on the currently muddled state of some humanistic values contains a lot of spirited writing in the service of edgy, priggish positions. Whittemore distrusts crudely black-chauvinist history and the often vacuous and arrogant rhetoric of the once New Left. He is even more suspicious of insulating the arts and the creative impulse from a real society's real demands. His ambivalence can be annoying. Certainly it creates oddities of tone, self-conscious harrumphings, flippant ellipses. The poet never became a confident and forthright journalist, but that same ambivalence is one of his most likable qualities.

Pub Date: July 27th, 1976
Publisher: New Republic