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On Poetry, Poets, and Poetasters

by Thomas M. Disch

Pub Date: Sept. 18th, 1995
ISBN: 0-312-13448-7
Publisher: Picador

Due largely to his success as a novelist (The Priest, p. 89, etc.), Disch has followed his poetic Muse without becoming part of the poetry racket (as Disch describes it, grants and awards and all the other free lunches poets arrange for one another). The same independent spirit pervades this outstanding collection of essays and reviewssimply, the best work of practical poetry criticism to be published in decades. Disch brings together nearly 30 fugitive pieces from both the mainstream (TLS, Washington Post, LA Times) and marginal (Hudson Review, New Criterion, Boulevard) press. And while there are no earth-shattering pronunciamentos punctuating these essays, there is plenty of common sense for common readers. Disch speaks plainly and eloquently (in the title essay) of the ``indolence, incompetence, and smugness'' that dominate the poetry world today. No mere scold, Disch supports his views with plenty of careful readings, all of which reflect a truly catholic taste. He praises the ``sheer lyric loveliness'' of Kathleen Raine and celebrates such other neglected figures as Peter Whigham, Kenneth Fearing, and Christopher Fry, whose verse dramas have been lost in the era of stage naturalism. Among his contemporaries, Disch finds ``epochal significance'' in Frederick Turner's SF epic, The New World; wit and grace in Vikram Seth's Golden Gate; and ``dependably near-perfect accomplishment'' in the work of Anthony Hecht. Rather than indulge in ``teapot tempests'' about the state of the art, Disch names the names of so many fakers and shakers: the ``more-holistic-than-thou'' posturings of W.S. Merwin; the macho vulnerability of Raymond Carver. Disch gives us Ashbery as ``the poet laureate of Spaciness'' and reads James Tate as a long ``toke on a sixties bong.'' No secret agendas, no backslaps, no compromises here. Those who seldom read poetry anymore will figure out why after enjoying Disch's always entertaining volume.