Critical of Criticism

Lately, I’ve been re-evaluating poetry criticism’s place in my writing life. For the most part, I haven’t seen the need to read someone’s opinion about a poem of collection of poems, probably because I’ve always viewed the concept from the point of view of a poet.

Through the years I’ve slogged through the commentary in each issue of Poetry, but geez that stuff is esoteric, obtuse and every other kind of irrelevant there is. That experience has largely turned me off to criticism.

Recently, however, my thinking on criticism has changed as I have done two things. First, I found other sources of poetry criticism. Gently Read Literature, a monthly online publication, brings poetry criticism in from the stratosphere. Read a few of the essays there, and you’ll feel like you’ve found where poetry and real life intersect.

Second, I’ve begun to view poetry criticism the same way I view poetry – that is: It should be relevant to people’s lives. My criticism of Poetry’s criticism is largely the same as my criticism of the poems it publishes. For the most part, there are few readers with the wherewithal to wade through the dense underbrush that ultimately offers no payoff. The overwhelming majority of the magazine’s poems are not worth the time required to figure them out.

I’m reminded now of Billy Collins’ poem “The Effort,” in which he disparages “the teachers who are fond of asking the question: ‘What is the poet trying to say?’” Poets shouldn’t be so inhospitable that readers walk away empty-handed.

Criticism should be the same. It should challenge and question, but it should ground itself in common experience and from that vantage point explain to readers the particulars of a poem or collection of poems without showing off how long it can go without taking a breath.


~ by ericedits on November 4, 2011.

2 Responses to “Critical of Criticism”

  1. […] week, I posted a post on poetry criticism and how it should try to be more relevant to real people’s lives, just as I believe poetry should […]


  2. I love you for saying what I feel so succinctly. Thank you.


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