Sunday, March 10, 2013

Another AWP another opportunity for Tony Hoagland to almost get it right and then blow it

R236. Camouflage and Capitalism: The Intellectual Appropriation of American Poetry, Sponsored by Alice James Books. (Laura McCullough, Tony Hoagland, Kathleen Graber, Reginald Dwayne Betts, Peter Campion) Alice James Books presents Tony Hoagland on the state of American Poetry. Hoagland will present an essay on poetry as camouflage, as something smuggled into the culture and how the poetry community hides behind the overintellectualization of aesthetics.  Kathleen Graber, Reginald Dwayne Betts, and Peter Campion respond, offering assessments of the current condition of poetry in this dialogue and debate moderated by Alice James Books board member, Laura McCullough.

So this was the panel description.  It was on Thursday.  There were several takeaways: 

The essays were all interesting and I hope they’re being published somewhere, as none of the presenters, I believe, read their entire papers.  Maybe Kathleen Graber did? 

To begin, I have sympathy for Tony Hoagland.  He’s a humanist.  He advocates a human approach to art with which I reflexively feel kinship.  But then he starts talking, getting specific, and I start to cringe.  His opening essay, which I’m not going to be able to summarize (I should have recorded it.  I even thought about it.), had a few different points, some of which, as I said, I generally could go along with, but specifically, or when he added examples, I found disagreeable.  The other presenters did a pretty good job of deconstructing them, so again, I wait for the recording to surface. 

Basically, here are the main points, which Hoagland admitted are not final, but are open (opening) questions: 

1. Soul is a bad word in workshops and in discourse on poetry, and has been supplanted by “intelligence.”

2. Wisdom is a bad word in workshops and in discourse on poetry, and has been supplanted by “intelligence” and “cleverness.” 

3. Poetry, under these pressures, has gotten too “intelligent” and lost its humanity (or something like that), as evidenced by a poem example from Ben Lerner. 

4. The university system is largely to blame. 

There is, as with most essays on poetry, some truth to Hoagland’s claims.  One can always find, as Peter Campion agreed, some bullshit poets out there.  But I have to echo Campion when he says that he was (as I believe Kathleen Graber and Reginald Dwayne Betts also noted) unaware that “soul” and “wisdom” were terms non grata. This is a major flaw in Hoagland's thinking, taking an example (this time a casual conversation with a friend about poetry, where the friend uses word like "dumb" and "stupid" in disparaging some poets) and then conflating it to be a general method.

It seems to me, at times like this, that Hoagland is laying his perceptions of what’s going on over the reality of what’s really going on.  We all do this, sure, but when Hoagland does this by proclamation in a large public setting, he’s setting himself up. 

His premise/premises, in my experience, are simply wrong.  (Right in some places in some poets, but wrong as a generalization.)  And also, his assertion that the “thinky,” “overintellectualization” of contemporary poetry can largely be laid at the feet of academia (we mostly have academic jobs, therefore we privilege academic discourse in our poetry) I find to be severely reductive. 

Hoagland’s arguments, while not without merit, rely on strawman props, which became all the more ironic after Peter Campion delivered his spirited reply to Hoagland’s essay.  At that time, as Campion went last, Hoagland, visibly angered, demanded the microphone for a rebuttal, and delivered a direct attack on Campion (first briefly praising Kathleen Graber and Reginald Dwayne Betts) as a symptom of what’s wrong in contemporary poetry and criticism, and specifically charging him with having committed an immoral (maybe he didn’t say "immoral," maybe it was more like “unconscionable” or something similar) ad hominem attack on Hoagland’s primary source, The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property, by Lewis Hyde. 

Basically, Campion’s argument went like this: beware the call for “soul” and “wisdom” in poetry, because these terms (and he was NOT saying that “soul” and “wisdom” are bad things, by the way, just dangerous as criteria) can lead one to make value judgments on poetry from outside the poem itself, for example, the way Lewis Hyde dismissed the work of John Berryman because of his “moral failings” (specifically alcoholism). 

It seemed a valid example to me, but it upset Hoagland. 

If the panel had ended there, with just the four essays (and without the Hoagland mic-grabbing finale) it would have been an interesting swirl of positions and thoughts, but as it stands, it’s now another example of Hoagland’s thin-skinned, aggressive nature.  I left the panel thinking only of Hoagland vs Campion, while the interesting and valuable thoughts of Kathleen Graber and Reginald Dwayne Betts were almost completely effaced from my memory. 

I hope, as I said above, that the essays (or the recording) will appear somewhere.  I’d love a chance for those who weren’t there to weigh in on the ideas (not just Hoagland's outburst). If I get the opportunity to see them, I'll link to them or post what I can, as there's a lot of interest (some of it being Hoagland's ideas) that I'm not remembering.  


Someone made a comment on this post (right around comment 80) to ask why I keep “attacking” Tony Hoagland on my blog.  The person then when on to suggest I do something else with my time, making a joke about my “soul.”  This reminds me that I should clarify my position. 

This is what I wrote in response:

Well, I guess that needed to be said. But from my point of view, it’s more like “Why does he keep hammering at this?” This paper is another version of “The Elliptical Poets Have Ruined Poetry” that he’s been doing for years. I don’t get the luxury of choosing my “targets.” What Hoagland says with a broad brush against a type of poetry I admire forces me to respond.

I have never (to the best of my knowledge) attacked Hoagland’s poetry. Responding to his attacks is a responsibility, just as, for him, making the attacks against a type of poetry he thinks is “bad” is his responsibility. For the health of my real soul, I must respond. I will continue to say my piece to his. Just as you’re tired of hearing me go on, I’m tired of him going on. I’m tired of the fight. But, you know, as he has said:

“I'm not one of those people who eschews value judgments of our art, who beams benevolently on all examples of all aesthetics. I believe that judgment is an accessory and an accomplice of taste. I myself love to make and to contemplate descriptive pronouncements of aesthetics. At their best, expressions of judgment are enlivening; they offer the authentic challenge of accuracy and discernment. Critical proclamations offer an audience—readers or listeners—a compressed, potentially illuminating descriptive summary of an artist or a work of art, to verify or disagree with.”

If he’s sincere in this, then a response should be welcome, and disagreement allowed. You can accuse me of whatever, but you could also accuse him of a vendetta against Ben Lerner, for example, who is his only example in his paper on “what’s wrong with contemporary poetry.” After the presentation, he said that Peter Campion was also what’s wrong in the conversation about poetry. If he’s allowed to continue to hammer away at what he sees is wrong in poetry, I must also be allowed. I don’t think Tony Hoagland is what’s wrong in poetry. He’s just saying his piece. What’s wrong is the large microphone he gets, and the deference paid to his accusations.


At 3/10/2013 10:01 AM, Blogger Kistulentz said...

Am I the only one who finds that most of the attacks and complaints about the university system come from the people who eat the largest share at that same trough?

My immediate thought on Hoagland's complaints on Thursday were that his logic repudiated his take on Hyde. Extending the argument of the panel, if the system itself is so cancerous, then perhaps Hoagland ought to feel a moral obligation not to participate in it.

At 3/10/2013 10:14 AM, Blogger Jeremy said...

Oh, Hoagland. Oh, Campion. Cafeteria scraps being thrown around. Fisticuffs in the middle of a state luncheon. The sad thing to me isn't the silliness of a Hoagland tirade, but that it's meant to be about poetry. People use poetry like a hostage, a body to hide behind while they lob crude bombs at each other. Meanwhile, poetry has very little truck with what poets say it does. I think I need to start a blog about exactly that. I'll call it "Very Little Truck."

At 3/10/2013 10:34 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

If anything, I’m tempted to say something close to the opposite of Hoagland on “the academy.” He’s speaking from out of, as you say, a large slice of the pie. Is he trying to change the system from within? I don’t’ see that. I just see him, as Jeremy says above, lobbing.

I like the idea of little trucks.

At 3/10/2013 10:56 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Just to add: It was noted during the panel that Hoagland changed his talk quite a bit (I think he took large sections out of it) from what was distributed to the other panelists, which caused them to have to revise their responses on the fly.

At 3/10/2013 11:06 AM, Anonymous Jamie Dickson said...

Tony Hoagland is the poetry world's Kanye West.

At 3/10/2013 11:31 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Does that make Peter Campion Taylor Swift?

At 3/10/2013 12:25 PM, Anonymous Peter Joseph said...

This post is a good example of Hoagland's complaint that academic poetry has no soul. This post has no soul, and in attempting to show off his intelligence, Mr. Gallagher shows little, if any, wisdom.

At 3/10/2013 12:44 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Thanks for commenting, Peter. It’s valuable to get a diversity of opinion.

As for your assessment of me, that’s not for me to defend. But, just in case you want to tell anyone else about the ways I fail to be wise or soulful, my name is Gallaher. I might be a fool to do so, but I’ll stand by what I wrote.

At 3/10/2013 1:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

or, as Philip Larkin wrote in a review of a biography of Thomas Hardy:

It was [Leslie] Stephen who gave Hardy his poetic credo in a sentence that is really all anyone needs to know about writing poetry:

The ultimate aim of the poet should be to touch our hearts by showing his own, and not to exhibit his learning, or his fine taste, or his skill in mimicking the notes of his predecessors.

—is that sort of what Hoagland is getting at . . . ?

At 3/10/2013 3:08 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Hi Anon,

Absolutely, that's something we all should aspire to. And LArking, of course, as they say, wrote smart.

Hoagland, though, is going further, quoting Stuart Dischell:

“I like poems that dumb people can understand.”

That is a very different thing, and something I find more troublesome, if taken straight.

At 3/10/2013 3:09 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

For "Larking," read "Larkin." I'm tyoing at an airport in spotty WiFi, so I'm not proofing well.

At 3/10/2013 4:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I took Hoagland to be defending accessible poetry, poetry that concerns itself with soul making, poetry any-old-body on the street can "get." Poetry in the tradition of Hardy and Larkin. I took him to be attacking the kind of obscure, pretentious crap called poetry we heard this past weekend from favorites of academic critics and the intelligentsia (poets like Graham and Brock Broido). Poetry you need an educated explainer to appreciate, if ever you do appreciate it.

Hoagland seemed to be bringing up The Gift in order to talk about that subtle exchange between poet and audience in which the poem, received as a gift by the writer and then as a gift by each reader in turn, keeps moving, the connection keeps moving. Since I had to leave before Campion spoke I can't address the misunderstanding. Suffice it to say that Campion would seem to come out of that same accessible school--his poems do not require academic interpretation.

At 3/10/2013 4:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

By the way, that last post is by a different Anonymous. Call me AnonB.

At 3/10/2013 6:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why does poetry have to be one thing? For a very long time American poetry, not to mention world poetry, has been many different things. If you value soul or wisdom in poetry, find poets who represent that for you. If you value cleverness or intellectual brio, find that poet. It's moronic that anyone should police this thing called poetry, and Hoagland's reactionary "defense" of accessibility, or soul, is just another silly attempt to corner something called art. I am so tired of attacks against "the academy" from people both within it and without it. Hoagland should just move to Malta.

That said, if you want a Defense of Poetry, read Sidney, or Shelley, or Rukeyser, or, more recently (just out!), Joshua Marie Wilkinson at Till Evening Comes at The Volta.

At 3/10/2013 6:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let me start by saying that I an a fan of Hoagland's poetry, but I found the second half of his essay unconvincing. There are a lot of isms pervasive in American poetry but I'm not convinced capitalism is at the top of the list. Cronyism comes to mind with how many magazine editors and publishers publish each other. Careerism and networking for teaching jobs also comes to mind. Being a poet capitalist is practically an oxymoron given the number of sales.

And, yes, Hoagland was thin-skinned. I wish the panel would have devoted half the time to a conversation. The essays themselves carried a whole lot of what Hoagland was complaining about and posturing about who had the intellectual right to pass judgment.

At 3/10/2013 7:22 PM, Blogger Joshua Bodwell said...

A poet with a blog subtitled “Searching for a Heartbeat in Poetry…” defending Peter Campion!?!? Dear god, what next, dogs lying down with cats?

Most of the poets I know who tread lightly around Campion only do so in fear that one day he’ll “review” them…you know, those snarky, self-serving little prose things he writes not to serve the public or the greater conversation but, rather, his own small soul (may I use “soul” here?)

At 3/10/2013 9:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


T'was brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.

T'was brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

- Lewis Carroll

At 3/10/2013 9:59 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Regarding what Hoagland might be defending, it’s more complicated than just saying he’s defending “accessible” poetry. In his talk he professed to admiring Lyn Hejinian’s poetry as well as Billy Collins’s. And he also professed to finding things to like in Ben Lerner’s poetry, although he’s also using it as an example of what he thinks is wrong in contemporary poetry.

Hoagland has, though, in general, an antipathy toward “Elliptical Poetry.” By the way, he might well be the last person in America to still use the term “Elliptical Poetry.”

At 3/10/2013 10:03 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

“The Gift” part is certainly problematic. He was saying (if I’m remembering correctly) that he considers his teaching to be him giving a gift to his students in the way that his teachers gave a gift to him.

My own take is that if you’re being paid for something, it’s not a gift.

At 3/10/2013 10:09 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


We have three dogs and a cat. It’s a long story. They’re all in a pile. It’s kind of a mess, granted.

Go right ahead, I like soul. I'm not sure how Hoagland means it, as he's mostly nodding to an essay Sven Birkerts wrote in Poetry that I haven’t read. I’ll look for it.

At 3/11/2013 6:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would have thought Campion and Hoagland would have been more in agreement on things. They seem cut from the same cloth.

There's not enough here to really undersatnd what they were each talking about. I hope these essays appear somewhere, unless they're as low level as they sound.

At 3/11/2013 6:36 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

A quick google can show pretty clearly where Campion’s coming from, and how he’s not just an oppositional figure to Hoagland’s general economy of “soul” and “wisdom” and “gifting” (both of these are from reviews Campion has done for The Los Angeles Review of Books):

“THE STRENGTH OF AMERICAN POETRY these days must lie in its sheer variety. Poems that develop with the linear cohesiveness of naturalistic fiction, poems that work by collaging or mashing up received idioms, poems that unfold as narratives yet with an undercurrent of associative strangeness—all these may prove first rate, and all may render the tones and contours of contemporary life. But such variety can also make for beffudlement, at least for readers without some partisan creed about poetry. How do different styles reflect different types of experience? How can we tell between our personal taste and genuine aesthetic judgment? What transcends style? How can we find it?”

“EVEN OUR COMMON USE OF THE WORD "INSPIRATION" suggests it: some power larger than the writer we're reading, some mysterious force has breathed life into the sentences, so that reading them allows us to suspend disbelief, and experience transport. Poetry in particular has long been associated with otherworldly visitations, with possession by the gods or the muses. But poetry also needs our capacity for skepticism. In fact, belief and disbelief tend to become mutually entailing in poetry. With its source in the individual voice, the poem sometimes asks us to listen beyond the dubious chatter of everyday collective life and believe in the intense singularity of individual expression. Think of the centripetal force of Emily Dickinson's quatrains. The same process can work in the reverse direction too: the poem sometimes asks us to doubt the limits of private consciousness, and move outward, believing in the restorative strength of the surrounding world. Think of the expansive sweep of Walt Whitman's lines.”

Perhaps Hoagland’s overly strong and personal reaction to Campion’s essay owed something to these, that perhaps he thought Campion would second his assertions rather than take exception to them, whereas Campion viewed the panel as a debate, which was how it was presented.

At 3/11/2013 6:47 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

This is my least favorite conversation. Ever.

There are a lot of reasons that poetry operates in the margins, but these critiques always insist that it's the fault of "bad university poets" writing the "wrong kinds of poems."

If poetry was waiting to be saved by someone "smart enough to write poems dumb people can enjoy", it would have happened already. There are no shortage of poets writing in the mode that Hoagland and others privilege.

It just seems like sour grapes that previously marginalized modes of writing have become more accepted. Unless Hoagland and other seriously believe there is some agenda being pushed through the university system to diminish the stature of "good" (in their criteria) poets?

At 3/11/2013 6:54 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

And I would agree that the strength of poetry is the sheer variety of the stuff. We live in an age when there are more of every kind of poet than ever before. What is bad about this exactly?

At 3/11/2013 6:56 AM, Blogger Joshua Bodwell said...


When Campion writes something this silly in Poetry magazine “(Mark) Strand is to (Wallace) Stevens what Olive Garden is to fine Italian dining: reliable, easy, popular, at times better than expected, but rarely the real thing.” he can’t really expect to be taken seriously, can he?

Campion’s repeatedly snarky, small “reviews” like this one above show that he’s most interested in aggressively using his intellect to land smug little zingers. What a waste.

At 3/11/2013 7:14 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Well, one, I won't judge all of Campion by one edge of his gamut. That would be unfair. You have to agree, I would think, that his reviews in The Los Angeles Times are not of that sort? Different types of reviews for different audiences. (And, as well, Hoagland, as well, participates in the "Joke" analogy in his criticism.)

But, you know, I kind of like Olive Garden. I had a good chicken dish there once. I eat there to keep things whole.

At 3/11/2013 7:16 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Natch. And I thought this stance (Boo! Bad academia! AWP is the problem and the solution!) was over, but it turns out it was just doing push-ups in its cell.

At 3/11/2013 7:50 AM, Blogger Peter Campion said...

As to that one sentence about Strand, Joshua may be right to kick my tires. It's not one, looking back five years later, that I want to print on a t-shirt and wear around. I found that short review format, before Poetry rightly junked it, a little tricky. Probably my own fault. I chose to give less space to the books I wasn't crazy about, so as to save more for those I thought were hot stuff. At times, this meant using too broad a brush. I do stand by my judgements, though, and will point out that I also called Strand's style "exquisite," and that he and his publisher used sentences of strong praise from the review to blurb the paperback edition.So, it wasn't a hatchet job. I do wish I'd made it clearer that comparing someone to their great forbear is a tall order, one predicated on acknowledging real achievement.

As to Joshua's analysis of my motives and the smallness of my soul: how does he know? Does he have a nanny cam somewhere in my house? Did he see me this morning when I was measuring my soul with a ruler and flexing it in front of the mirror?

I don't have any desire to impugn your motives or your person, Joshua. That would be an "ad hominem" attack, a phrase that TH mis-used the other day. An "ad hominem" or "ad feminam" attack is one directed against the person his or herself, and instead of that person's work. One of the central points of my talk--I think it was pretty clear-- was that critical judgement of poetry should be about poetry and not the moral, ethical, spiritual status of the writer's inner life.

Internet comment fields and such-like can sometimes fill up with road rage. I've probably made the mistake myself at times, and don't want to point fingers. But I really don't know where your animus comes from. I don't know any poets in Maine where you live--though I love that area, in fact--and so don't know why they would be "pussyfooting" around me.

I wish you the best, and promise not to hover here. Y'all should have whatever conversation you want. Obviously.

At 3/11/2013 8:41 AM, Blogger Joshua Bodwell said...

(1) If I were, say, Bob Woodward, I’d claim that it was “threatening” that Campion used his Google skills, found out where I live, and then casually mentioned Maine in his response—okay, maybe not “threatening,” but at least “creepy,” right?

(2) Yes, I do in fact have online access to a “nanny cam” in Campion’s Minnesota home; a team of ninja-poets put the cam in place some time ago.

(3) I’m sorry to hear Campion doesn’t know any poets in Maine. Here in the land of Longfellow, Millay, and Robinson, the contemporary poetry scene is pretty damned rich, to say the least.

(4) Being annoyed is different than “animus.”

(5) Why don’t more poets challenge Campion? Is it simply because they don’t want to end up being reviewed by him?

(6) I wouldn’t wish Campion’s own books to be reviewed in the way he reviews others. And if someone did review him that way, I’d find it shitty if years later that reviewer shrugged it off by saying “At times, this meant using too broad a brush.” Or “As to that one sentence about Strand… It’s not one, looking back five years later, that I want to print on a t-shirt and wear around.” While both of these lines attempt to be self-effacing, they also come across as minimizing…

(7) "pussyfooting"

At 3/11/2013 9:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

uh oh, John. your comment thread is slipping out of your grasp.

At 3/11/2013 9:52 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Ha! It’ll be cool.

Joshua, I’m only thinking about Hoagland’s essay and the responses to it. From that perspective, Hoagland’s diatribe at the end was a seriously uncool moment. I wish there had been room (time) for a proper debate. Perhaps then I could have gotten a better idea what he means by “soul” and by “gift.” How he’s thinking of these terms is of fundamental importance. It might even be possible that I (or Campion, as well, as he noted several times in his paper) don’t have as much disagreement with his position as it seems I do. This is what I meant by the title of my blog post. This was a great opportunity for Hoagland to lay out a few key ideas of “soul” and “wisdom” and “gifting” that could have been a coming together moment, but instead, through his examples and his broad brush (as Campion says about his own sometimes broad brush . . .) attacks on “Elliptical” poets, he blew his opportunity. He wants to be a generous soul, but he also wants to play the provocateur. He can’t play it both ways at the same time.

At 3/11/2013 10:12 AM, Blogger Joshua Bodwell said...

Thanks, John.

And I’m sure you’d agree that Campion can’t “play it both ways at the same time,” either, right? One shouldn’t write snarky pithy reviews and then blame it on the “tricky” short review format of Poetry, eh?

To Hoagland, all I can guess is that sometimes even those who are or want to be the most generous souls can become unhinged in the face of what they believe is mean-spirited intellectual bullying.

At 3/11/2013 10:39 AM, Anonymous Matthew Cooperman said...

It's interesting how this whole conversation seems to replicate the strengths and weaknesses of the panel. Perhaps Hoagland will weigh in! Glad Campion did, we should at least be able to defend ourselves. But Hoagland's provocation sounds so much like his stick in the eye with Claudia Rankine a few years ago (kinda like an AWP rite of passage). Glad, in a way, it's spiraled out of control, though it seems to have moved on to how we discuss poetry--review it?--rather than write it.

Case in point is Hoagland's recent precis on Brenda Hillman's work--how it showed such wonderful "suburban and yet eclectic promise" early on, but then she took a "wrong turn" by pursuing the much stranger alchemies of Loose Sugar forward. The problem isn't so much what direction Hillman's poetry took, but that it didn't take the contour Hoagland wanted it to. God help me if my writing satisfies the desires of what Hoagland "wants" from me. And that's true of any reviewer. Take a book or a poem at face value. Assume the poet has written it from their own complex necessities, and see if we get something from it. If not, move on, plurality means there's other things to read. I have never had a conversation with another poet I admire where the conversation turns to--I wish you'd evolved this way and not that; that seems a wrong turning in American poetry (I invoke Bly's polemic as at least a substantive charge). Hoagland just seems to be wingeing his own personal disappointments. It's "me" hominem.

But the crucial thing seems to be the work. I teach poetry in an MFA program, have wonderful colleagues (Dan Beachy Quick and Sasha Steensen) and damned if we don't teach and read differently. I think that's a benefit to our students and the possibilities of their poems. And I have many friends who do similar things in different places. So the pluralism of poetry rises and compounds. It seems preferable to the culture wars of Langpo/Academy of the 80s/90s, that really polarized the field, and made many people "choose." Encourage a given poet's (and your own) particular purchase on soul, intelligence, whatever...I teach it as necessity, and let the work deepen from there. Poetry is such a private coming to terms--and those terms have all sorts of calculations in them, some of them careerist--but I don't read poems to find agendas, or line up soldiers. I read poetry to discover new and old possibilities in language which make me feel a little rounder, a little more human and more-than-human at the end of the day.

Oh, and that Anon post earlier mentioning Josh Wilkinson is me--take a look at that. It seems to address so much of what the panel circled around (Till Evening Comes at The Volta)

At 3/11/2013 11:12 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


One can’t play both sides, yes. I agree. Though even as you’re telling me I must conflate the tones of reviews Campion did years apart, you’re still an apologist for Hoagland’s aggressive “let’s be nice.”

In response I will only second what Campion said above. His shoot-from-the-hip pieces don’t mix well with his more subtle reviews. If he were to try to do both in the same review, that would not work well at all. Jon Stewart has said something similar about the way he does “fake news” and how that doesn’t mix well with suddenly deep and subtle questions, in explaining his interview style with guests.

Still, there is a place for “bumper sticker” criticism, though. We do it all the time.

At 3/11/2013 11:16 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Thanks for bringing up the Hillman! That’s another example how when I’m usually reading Hoagland I think “hey, this seems to be going someplace interesting,” and then he veers off into something I find myself completely at odds with.

He’s got good initiating ideas but poor follow-through. I sympathize with that, as well, as I often feel I have the same problem. But I still have to disagree with what he usually comes out with.

The Rankine is another very good example. He takes good points to bad places.

At 3/11/2013 11:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

all in favor of pluralism, the more poets the better, but the debate is not going to stop between the accessible (the stupid) and the difficult (the smart) parties, is it? You can only paper over the differences for so long before that generosity of spirit or synthesis rips— Why can't we live and let live, and honor each other's "complex necessities"? Well, okay,— but when did poets and critics ever do that? Cooperman referencing only the 80/90s "war" as if that was a unique occurrence and suggesting that today's poets will no longer have to "choose" seems to ignore earlier similar conflicts in the 1950s/60s/70s, not to mention every other decade of that century and the previous . . . Hoagland can appreciate (or claim to) both Heijinian and Collins, but most of the hundreds of thousands of people who have bought the latter's books are not buying hers too, are they? Oops, sorry to mention the poetry-book-buying audience: they have no say in this debate, do they?

At 3/11/2013 11:28 AM, Blogger Joshua Bodwell said...


I’m not being an apologist for Hoagland at all. Yikes. I was merely speculating on your statement: “He wants to be a generous soul, but he also wants to play the provocateur.” Though, from your response to my speculation, one might peg you as something of an apologist for Campion.

But, hey, as I’ve said, if you’re a poet with a new collection coming out—in, say, 2015—being an apologist for Campion is probably a safe play.

*Personally, I’m eagerly waiting for someone to accuse Campion of being sexist after his use of the phrase “pussyfooting” earlier!

At 3/11/2013 11:31 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Hi Anon,

I’m also part of the book-buying audience, as my luggage attests. We have our say by saying it.

Disagreements we will always have with us. What I wish is that we had less misreading and willfully misreading. That seems to me the point (or one of the points) of Kathleen Graber’s paper. It’s not about DUMB and SMART. Gah, what a boring dichotomy. It’s like RAW vs COOKED made into an elementary school curriculum.

At 3/11/2013 11:31 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

It is not ever going to go away.

I mean, this kind of knee-jerk reactionary posturing happens all over the place. Politics, music, video games, etc.

The issue, I think, is someone like Hoagland using his seat of power to bully people into doing what he wants. Hoagland's mic-grab at the end is not only incredibly rude to the other panelists, it's also embarrassing.

At 3/11/2013 11:33 AM, Blogger Thomas Brady said...

I just the read the Josh Wilkinson essay on The Volta, and agree all should go right now and read it, not only because it's good, but because the issue here really is an 'accessibility' issue---which is divisive and won't go away, and has a kind of 'road rage' volatility because it gets to the bottom of how we should treat each other: should the poem come to us, or should we come to the poem? Wilkinson says the latter, even as he concedes a point made by Billy Collins that 'accessibility' is a ruse that he (Collins) uses to lead the reader towards more complexity. I'm glad to see 'accessibility' is being discussed with intelligence and compromise more often these days: C.Dale Young in APR just wrote a good piece on it, which I reviewed on Scarriet.

At 3/11/2013 11:39 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


And it was, quite literally a grab. Holding it in his hand and everything.


I can see that I will not convince you that I’m speaking honestly. Anyway, I am. The book I have coming out in 2015 will be my fifth book of poetry. If my career plan was to butter-up peter Campion, I would have done it long ago.

“Career Plan.” Now THAT’S a funny thought, as I’m almost 50.

In this one instance, I think I quite rightfully am an apologist (one who speaks or writes in defense of someone or something) for Campion. I agree with much (but not all) of what I remember him saying at the panel, and I feel Hoagland (at the end) was out of line and I’m saying so.

At 3/11/2013 11:44 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

As reminder:

"We are told, again and again, that for poetry to be digestible in a broadly appealing way, apparently it must be poetry paired up with something else. For Natasha Tretheway to be invited to Fresh Air, there must be a pitch; poetry beside a familiar topic. “Poetry plus” is what Marjorie Perloff calls this.

For Tretheway, that means poetry plus her biracialness. Which allows Terry Gross to ask, “What does [Obama’s election] mean to you?” For former poets laureate it is poetry plus the homelessness of a brother (Robert Hass) or poetry plus the death of a parent (W.S. Merwin); and really why should this surprise us? It just exploits the fact that poetry can speak to literally anything. And so long as the host sticks to the topics we are safe with (politics, death, family) then we will avoid having to talk about what animates poetry (the language itself, of course). So much so, perhaps, that for Billy Collins, it is poetry plus accessibility itself. Poets on “Fresh Air” are treated like 21st-Century mystics, with specialized access to their own experience. There is so little mention of language in these interviews that you might forget that poets work with words at all. Yet even Collins, the author of a book called The Trouble with Poetry, says that this talk of accessibility is now like “nails on a blackboard” to him."

At 3/11/2013 11:51 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I think that Hoagland would say it's NOT an accessibility issue, but that doesn’t mean it’s not. Certainly it is to him: what he finds accessible vs what he doesn’t, but his SMART vs DUMB dichotomy unhelpfully gets in the way of a better conversation he could be having (or WE could be having).

What’s accessible is what’s accessible to ME. Steven Burt has a good essay on that somewhere. It was years before I could read Robert Frost and get anything out of it except farm clichés. Now I can. Frost has been made accessible to me over time. Good for me.

Wilkinson is so elegantly right about “the pitch.”

At 3/11/2013 11:54 AM, Blogger Peter Campion said...

Thanks to Matthew Cooperman for pointing us to the Wilkinson interview. I imagine that our lists of favorites may differ a lot, though I sure do love the O'Hara poem he praises. And I'm sot sure that a few differences in taste should matter too much anyway. Wilkinson writes intelligently, clearly and imaginatively about art he loves and takes seriously (not to mention, enjoyably.) The kind of forum he's trying to build at his magazine sounds refreshing to me.

At 3/11/2013 12:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the Wilkinson quote shows what we poetry plus people find most insufferable in you poetry minus people: your arrogance. If an actor were to read that stuff aloud, any director would tell him to insert a sneer every other word. Condescending and looking down your nose at us stupid NPR listeners who prefer to read poems which are actually about something other that "which animates poetry (the language itself, of course)" is your standard gospel, but I suspect it rarely achieves its intended goal of browbeating and shaming us into reading your unpitched poems.

At 3/11/2013 1:22 PM, Blogger Thomas Brady said...

I don't see why it can't be 50/50, in 'reader coming to poem/poem coming to reader.' The two schools seem very much opposed.

One advantage the C.Dale Young APR essay has over the Wilkinson Volta essay is Young close-reads poems (especially Frank O'Hara).

Below is the Scarriet link which contains a link to C.Dale Young:

At 3/11/2013 2:35 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

1. Provocation is a bad word on blogs and discourse on poetry and has been supplanted by reasonableness.

At 3/11/2013 2:37 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

2. Reasonableness is a silly word, but menschiness is both silly and gendered and therefore much too much like blogs and discourse on poetry to be allowed to stand.

At 3/11/2013 2:38 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

3. Poetry, under these pressures, has grown bored of blogs, and hate-follows terrible poets on Facebook and Twitter.

At 3/11/2013 2:38 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

4. The Internet is largely to blame.

At 3/11/2013 2:51 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Discourse on poetry has grown tired of poetry, and now shadows private mall security.

At 3/11/2013 3:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So the AWP panel description was "Camouflage and Capitalism: The Intellectual Appropriation of American Poetry"...

I wasn't at the AWP event, wish I was. Interesting thread running here, though. I'm curious - exactly where and how does capitalism/economics specifically enter the picture and get tied in to this cultural argument/discussion about aesthetics/poetics? Any new, interesting and coherent insights with a less broad brush from the panel?

What's the actual thesis or accusation? Academics are subverting the market system somehow with fraudulent over-intellectualization? What's the current market value on "soul," "wisdom" or "intelligence" anyway? Is the University like the central bank of of poetry, like the Fed, concerned with poetry's business cycle, liquidity, interest rates, inflation, etc? Are we in a dangerous and unsustainable "smart" or "dumb" bubble, and we should have a policy of expansion or contraction on one or the other? Are thinky academics using elliptical market distortions via University policy in cahoots with over-intellectual aesthetic preference causing poetic malinvestment and leading to the bankruptcy of cleverness? Is the University System of snooty intellects more like the too big too fail banks fleecing and plundering poetry by taking huge risks with the people's sincerity and/or irony, privatizing the profits and socializing the costs (or getting a bailout by MFA students)? Really though, who should play poetry's Treasury Secretary and its Fed Chair in the TV movie?

- Chris D'Errico

At 3/11/2013 3:55 PM, Blogger Thomas Brady said...

Wilkinson frequently mentions "the language" of the poem, a common trope of the anti-accessible school, but it doesn't really get explained. What is this mysterious "language" of the poem? Can anyone say?

At 3/11/2013 3:56 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

My guess is it's the words in the poem.

At 3/11/2013 4:01 PM, Blogger Thomas Brady said...


I think Hoagland is adding a political spin--anything to provoke academic obscurity out of its complacency--attack from a leftist point of view, accuse obscurity/cleverness of elitism.

At 3/11/2013 4:10 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


As for thesis, I think your second one here: “Academics are subverting the market system somehow with fraudulent over-intellectualization” is probably it.

Hoagland started off admitting that his was not going to be a definitive, exhaustive paper on this subject, but one to, as the kids say, “get a conversation going.” Specifically though, Hoagland’s logic goes something like this (in my paraphrase, not a direct quote) long conditional statement:

“If the pressure from academic English departments to appear intelligent in one’s poetry is reactively related to a cultural embarrassment about the spiritual, idealistic or ethical humanism of art, and poetry in particular, and if that embarrassment has changed the way we value poetry, and if the way we talk about it (including what we don't say) has changed us, then I think many of us can uneasily sense that our art form, that our art environment, has been infiltrated by some unhealthy, viral forms of capitalism.”

To repeat, the above is NOT a direct quote, but a pretty fair summary of his transition from soul to capital. It’s a conditional statement, and each premise shakily supports the next shaky premise. I have to admit, I’m not really sure what he’s really getting at, as he places this “unhealthy, viral forms of capitalism” against the “gift” economy that he calls for as antidote . . . and this gift economy is seen in the way he is with his students, which for me seems a much more direct form of capitalism that the above description, as well as the foundation of his critique (namely, that it’s the academy!). Just to add, as well, he places AWP as both a big part of the problem and a big part of the solution here.

So the academy and AWP are the problem and the solution. So the real blame, I would think, isn’t really a blame at the structures of the academy and AWP, but some unnamed bad apples that fill them.

At 3/11/2013 4:15 PM, Blogger Peter Campion said...

I like Thomas Brady's idea of form and content doing a 50/50. Maybe Frost put it best: "form and content must use each other up."

At 3/11/2013 4:17 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I would propose a two column approach. Or maybe half the words in italics. Maybe a line of prose running across the bottom of the page?

At 3/11/2013 4:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At some point, doesn't this all just seem like Hoagland's roundabout way of justifying his actual financial success with his hippyish idea of himself. On the other hand, it seems preposterous to me that appearing intellectual has this huge value with the academy (which academy, I guess). It seems like the MFA establishment (that academy) is coming to tolerate what Hoagland's claiming it praises above all else.

At 3/11/2013 5:10 PM, Blogger Cattie said...

I agree with you about "soul" and "wisdom" being dangerous criteria, but maybe for different reasons. Sometimes I feel like it's crippling to creativity and innovation to think too much about whether you're being soulful and wise enough in any given poem. If I start to worry about whether the poem I'm writing will be acceptable to the world, if they will all think it's got that something or not, if it has enough soul or wisdom or duende or whatever you want to call what makes a good poem a good poem, or what makes a good piece of art stick to our ribs - if I get too concerned about all that, I find myself bottlenecking and whatever poem was going on just stops dead. Maybe it's just a personal problem, or maybe it's just because I'm young and am still learning how to take risks and steer my ship and all those things, but I think part of it is because people like this guy say things like this. They become little self-consciousness machines, for me. Or cogs in mine. Or something.

At 3/11/2013 5:24 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I don’t know what Hoagland’s motivations are, outside of the situation itself. I could guess, but that would just be me guessing.

Here’s what I’m going with: Hoagland has been consistent with his criticism of certain poets and certain moves they make in poems (Ben Lerner is just the latest [ and am I wrong, but I think Hoagland’s tossed something at Lerner before?]) though the names he’s used have shifted. Skittery was one. Now it’s overintellectualization. The fact, though, that he’s consistent, speaks of his genuine dislike. He doesn’t like this stuff (though he admits there are aspects of it that he does admire and find interesting) and he keeps trying to name it.

The academic bits are more difficult for me to figure out. I will leave that to others. All I can say is the kind of base thing I said above somewhere, that if someone pays you for something, you can’t call it a gift.

At 3/11/2013 8:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aren't Tony Hoagland and Peter Campion _both_ bullshit poets? Why does this even matter?

I'm just going to stick them both in the category of vaguely racist "white dudes."

I wonder who has the biggest dick?

YAWN. Patriarchal poetry 101.

Can people please stop paying attention to these idiots?

At 3/11/2013 9:49 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...


Poetic Jailbreak

Time to break the poor soul
free from such cruel
and inexcusable bondage.
We’ll sneak in at night
and break the locks
and facilitate an escape,
free this soul from the jailers
in the prison of academic literature
feeding like incestuous cannibals
on themselves, return
the soul to the freedom
of the world… as it is now…
here and terrible, continuing,
not as it has been heretofore
so many times described.

Copyright 2008 – Tall Grass & High Waves, Gary B. Fitzgerald

At 3/12/2013 4:42 AM, Blogger Delia Psyche said...

I like a merry mix-up of form and content--corm and font-ENT. A swollen underground plant stem and an ear/nose/throat ward for sick fonts.

Oops, maybe that's overintellectual...

At 3/12/2013 7:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm just reading this now. I was at the event and think this is a pretty good summary of what happened. However, it may be a bit unfair to paint Hoagland as the aggressor (which, I believe, has colored some of these responses from folks who weren't there). There was plenty of aggression and anger on both sides. I too would have to hear the talks again to know for sure, but I also felt there was some common ground that was ignored by both of them. Maybe it was unfortunate that Hoagland grabbed the mic, but, at the same time, perhaps the format should have included a chance for a brief response. Maybe even Hyde should have gotten a chance to respond! (He was in the audience.)

At 3/12/2013 7:37 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I didn't know Hyde was there. For me, that explains a lot of why Hoagland was so fast to grab the mic at the end.

If I had a friend in the audience, as Hoagland had Hyde (I'm just guessing that Hoagland is - I relaly don't know) and listened to someone's take-down (which Campion was well within his rights to do), I would have maybe been a little hot as well.

Campion didn't seem the least bit mad to me. In my hearing, he seemed to be having a good time, even, with the debate. And, yes, you're right, there was plenty of common ground. Campion mostly had it in for Hyde, and said several times that Hoagland's other points were solid.

At 3/12/2013 8:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gary, you've been asked many times not to deface the comments stream by posting your own poems. You've even said, many times, that you would stop. Please stop. And seek appropriate psychological help as necessary.

At 3/12/2013 8:34 AM, Blogger Thomas Brady said...

I'm gonna review Wilkinson' piece for Scarriet, so I won't say too much here, but John, re: Wilkinson's "language of the poem," when I asked what does he mean by "language," you wrote, "My guess is it's the words in the poem." But here's my point: The language of any poem is...language. Why is any poem assumed to have it *own* language? This begs the question, for that's not what "language" means. Such a claim is simply too broad. I'm sure some wag will reply, "I know interesting language when I see it," the same way Hoagland would say, "I know wisdom and soul when I see it."

At 3/12/2013 8:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's interesting that you didn't perceive any anger in Campion's delivery. How close were you sitting? I was close enough to hear what I thought were some snide asides that the mic may not have picked up-- but even from that proximity, I could be wrong. And maybe I am mistaking intensity for anger (to some extent). I'm sure we're all coloring this with our own perceptions. We need the tape!

At 3/12/2013 8:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wisdom is the soul's language, Tom. Didn't Keats say that, or something like it?


At 3/12/2013 8:43 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I find no problem with Wilkinson’s use of the word “language.” How about “The way this poem [insert any poem here] uses language that distinguishes it from the way other poems and other language acts use language.” Would that help? Or would that just make matters worse for you?

At 3/12/2013 8:48 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I was third row back on Hoagland’s corner. I did hear Hoagland interject at one point while Campion was reading, and I think that did kind of throw Campion off for a second, and there was a retort, but I didn’t catch it well. At that point, I would agree, that Campion looked irritated. I’d forgotten about that.

At 3/12/2013 8:54 AM, Blogger Thomas Brady said...

It's much easier to see where Hoagland is coming from if you know Hyde's "The Gift." I just found this review which is a good summary

At 3/12/2013 9:05 AM, Blogger Thomas Brady said...


"the way this poem uses language" doesn't help matters. Still too vague, and Wilkinson didn't quote any poetry. Funny, because Wilkinson said 'poetry is what cannot be reduced.' Yet no examples of poetry. Quoted Jarrell a lot---Jarrell, student of New Critic, Ransom, and if there's one thing the New Critics said, it was 'poetry cannot be reduced.' So: "poetry minus" is New Criticism.

At 3/12/2013 9:08 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Tom, I thought you brought up the Wilkinson by saying you liked it, and thought it was a good essay. Now you seem to be going a different direction?

At 3/12/2013 9:56 AM, Blogger Thomas Brady said...


I love the Wilkinson---for its thorough summary of an important argument, with numerous clever points made in its favor: a delightful feast for Scarriet...

At 3/12/2013 12:08 PM, Anonymous Alan Feldman said...

I was able to attend this session at AWP. I thought the question Tony Hoagland was raising was simply whether certain kinds of (mostly bad) poetry might be the result of a pressured academic environment, and whether this environment was the result of being infected by being a capitalist enterprise. And, since Tony teaches in an MFA program, and was speaking at the AWP, what might be done to innoculate the young to prevent this.

Having become a poet just before the dawn of the rise of the MFA industry, back when the best academic post a poet could hope for would be to become a semi-refugee in an English department (see W. D. Snodgrass, “April Inventory”), I too scratch my head with wonder (and some misgivings) at the sight of hoards of creative writers (mostly quite young, to my eye) attending the AWP.

The rise of this industry is easily explained by economics: capital flows towards ideas that produce value. The value of this industry to the higher education industry is that it produces many young teachers who, in return for a tiny paycheck or fellowship, can extend their childhoods by working at an activity that is a form of play. These young teachers, in my experience, are usually lively, imaginative, and appealing, and can easily be trusted with the tens of thousands of sections of English composition that must be staffed. In addition, they receive “terminal degrees” that make them ill suited to teaching literature courses. Like nurse practitioners, many may well end up doing the lower-level undergraduate teaching that more credentialed colleagues used to do, but for lower pay. When they do teach literature, they tend to teach it out of a love for what they read, a much better attitude than that cultivated in most Ph.D. programs now where books are mostly taught as cultural artifacts. So they represent a significant value to the industry.

Does all of this affect their poetry? Are they loading on allusions and other signs of intellectual sophistication as a way of credentialing themselves? Is this ruining their poetry? If I were trying to instruct them I guess this would worry me. But really, who cares? Most poetry written at any time is quickly (and justifiably) forgotten. I often tell people who complain that they “don’t get” contemporary poetry to treat the experience of reading it like a trip to a thrift store. Sort through the racks to find that rare item you want to keep.

Peter Campion’s repudiation of Lewis Hyde’s work seemed ad hominum in this respect: he seemed to be saying that because Hyde had attacked Berryman’s work in Alcohol and Poetry that we therefore shouldn’t pay much respect to what he subsequently said in The Gift. Hyde’s essay on alcohol, I always thought, was written for the useful purpose of discouraging people from glamorizing (and thus fostering) the alcoholism of writers. He was showing that Berryman’s work couldn’t develop as fully as it might have because of his addiction.

Lewis Hyde was in the audience. He said that when Tony was praising his work he’d resolved not to let it go to his head. So therefore when he was being attacked. . . . A good attitude I think in response to this flapdoodle.

I do hope Tony's essay, and all three responses to it, will be published somewhere for people to see and think about. Clearly this discussion hit a nerve, or a whole cluster of nerves.

At 3/12/2013 12:22 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I’m going to leave this spam comment (above) on here, because it’s beautifully placed. Capitalist enterprise!

At 3/12/2013 12:35 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Thanks for stopping by. Yes, knowing that Hyde was in the audience, and that Hoagland knew that (and I’m guessing the other panelists didn’t?), does explain (as I said above) some of Hoagland’s reaction to Campion.

Your summary here of Hoagland’s thesis is most welcome. I got caught up in the side points of “soul” and “wisdom” and “gift” and missed (through the avalanche of how the thing ended) his larger point. I would like to respectfully disagree with your (and his) assessment of the current conditions.

I think, poem for poem, our age is no better or worse for the ratio of good art to bad art as most ages. There’s a lot of bad art out there (Campion also agreed with Hoagland on this point—in fact, they agreed a lot), but the current calls against bad art bring in a lot of this other baggage, this need to explain just why this art is so bad, when in fact, it’s no more bad or good than it’s ever been.

You say this: “Peter Campion’s repudiation of Lewis Hyde’s work seemed ad hominum in this respect: he seemed to be saying that because Hyde had attacked Berryman’s work in Alcohol and Poetry that we therefore shouldn’t pay much respect to what he subsequently said in The Gift.” This certainly is how Hoagland heard it, as well. I didn’t hear it quite that way, but I can certainly understand your position. I heard it more like this: “Beware this call for “gift” and “soul” and “wisdom” because it comes with a lot of other preconceived notions of the worth of a piece of art, for example, Lewis Hyde’s dismissal of Berryman due not to the value of the poems, but instead Hyde’s views on Berryman’s moral failings.”

Granted, it’s an aggressive argument, but not fallacious.

At 3/12/2013 5:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

this blog's endless attacks on Tony Hoagland are kind of pathetic by now, not to mention redundant and boring . . . we get it, JG, he's your bete noire, he's the stain on your bedspread, but you really should find some other targets for the sake of your "soul"—

At 3/12/2013 6:11 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Hi Anon,

Well, I guess that needed to be said. But from my point of view, it’s more like “Why does he keep hammering at this?” This paper is another version of “The Elliptical Poets Have Ruined Poetry” that he’s been doing for years. I don’t get the luxury of choosing my “targets.” What Hoagland says with a broad brush against a type of poetry I admire forces me to respond.

I have never (to the best of my knowledge) attacked Hoagland’s poetry. Responding to his attacks is a responsibility, just as, for him, making the attacks against a type of poetry he thinks is “bad” is his responsibility. For the health of my real soul, I must respond. I will continue to say my piece to his. Just as you’re tired of hearing me go on, I’m tired of him going on. I’m tired of the fight. But, you know, as he has said:

“I'm not one of those people who eschews value judgments of our art, who beams benevolently on all examples of all aesthetics. I believe that judgment is an accessory and an accomplice of taste. I myself love to make and to contemplate descriptive pronouncements of aesthetics. At their best, expressions of judgment are enlivening; they offer the authentic challenge of accuracy and discernment. Critical proclamations offer an audience—readers or listeners—a compressed, potentially illuminating descriptive summary of an artist or a work of art, to verify or disagree with.”

If he’s sincere in this, then a response should be welcome, and disagreement allowed. You can accuse me of whatever, but you could also accuse him of a vendetta against Ben Lerner, for example, who is his only example in his paper on “what’s wrong with contemporary poetry.” After the presentation, he said that Peter Campion was also what’s wrong in the conversation about poetry. If he’s allowed to continue to hammer away at what he sees is wrong in poetry, I must also be allowed. I don’t think Tony Hoagland is what’s wrong in poetry. He’s just saying his piece. What’s wrong is the large microphone he gets, and the deference paid to his accusations.

At 3/12/2013 6:14 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

For emphasis, I should have written "endless accusations" at the end of that. Let the record show.

At 3/12/2013 6:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, I enjoyed Mr. Fitzgerald's little poem. I think he hit the nail on the head. I don't understand why anyone would be offended by it.

At least, he injected a little "soul" into the conversation.

At 3/12/2013 10:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh all you nice people, why don't you wander around outside for awhile -- spring is coming!

At 3/13/2013 5:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What do you make of this debate versus the one set off by Perloff's Poetry on the Brink in that BR forum and elsewhere?

I think it's interesting the starkly different portraits of what's dominant in the start of her essay and in what's been summarized of TH's.

At 3/13/2013 6:49 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Hi Anon,

I agree. It’s telling how stark the differences are. And I think that reflects more on who’s talking than what they’re talking about. Honestly though, I’ve forgotten most of what she said in her essay, but I recall I was in large disagreement with her. As her argument was one of classification (THESE ARE NOT POEMS!), I couldn’t find much of a way to even engage it. With Hoagland, he concedes that these are poems, just not successful ones. In that, he leaves the door open for discussion. Perloff’s is a definitional position, and one I can only respond to with a counter-definition.

As I wrote at the time:

“These essays about ‘what’s going on in contemporary American poetry,’ are they really trying to understand what’s going on, or are they trying to justify their own position? I guess that’s my position, my question. There certainly are some poets out there who feign rhythm, the chronic ‘poet voice’ problem that forces a lilt, a semi-question mark uptick at the ends of lines that ruin the natural rhythm of the sentence. That’s a point I would concede. But that’s about poetry performance, and has nothing to do with the way it performs of the page itself.

But say, for instance, that meter, rhythm, and economy of language are the criteria of what makes a poem a poem. Say, then, that we’re not doing that anymore. (These are big assumptions, yes.) Does that really change anything about what we’re doing? A rose by any other name?

This is an academic game, perhaps THE academic game, and, to my appreciation of art, beside the point. Unless, of course, it’s your thing, and then, go for it.”

One of the things I found interesting about my post is that it got NO comments. Not a single one. That could be my fault. Perhaps I should have titled it: “Another large circulation piece on poetics, another opportunity for Marjorie Perloff to almost get it right and then blow it”

But to go back to your question. I think that high profile poets and critics such as Tony Hoagland and Marjorie Perloff, because of their contexts, see skewed versions of what’s going on in contemporary poetry. When they write these essays, they seem to be grabbing their examples from the most recent issue of APR or The New Yorker or Poetry Magazine, and then make assumptions.

These assumptions are always going to be wrong. Both Hoagland and Perloff are correct about some poets in some places, but they are going to be necessarily wrong when they generalize across the body of poetry being written today. One just can’t generalize in this way. But we want to. I understand that. We all want to understand the “BIG PICTURE.” Personally, I don’t think contemporary poetry in America has a big picture right now. Value judge that as you will. I’m OK with it.

But "I'm OK with it" doesn't make good copy.

At 3/14/2013 1:28 PM, Blogger DLev said...

I'm pro soul. I am even pro "soul," though I had to use tongs to deploy it in this sentence.

At 3/14/2013 1:37 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I, likewise, will go on the record as Pro Soul, and add Pro Wisdom and Pro Tongs.

Ante up!

At 3/14/2013 1:53 PM, Blogger Thomas Brady said...

My Wilkinson piece is up on Scarriet.

At 3/15/2013 7:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, I don't see your blog for a few days John and check in to find this one going toward 100 comments. It seems like deja vu all over again Yogi. Wasn't it two or three years ago at AWP that the panel surrounding "The Change" blew up on the internet?

I've been out of touch, so haven't seen if this one is going in that direction too but in just skimming the posts here, I'm guessing that's a possibility.

It would be nice to see the text of the panel discussion in full. Best,



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