One-Minute Book Reviews

July 2, 2009

Is the State of Contemporary Poetry Healthy? – Quote of the Day / William Logan

Just picked up Our Savage Art: Poetry and the Civil Tongue (Columbia University Press, 368 pp., $29.50), the new book of poetry criticism by William Logan, who won a National Book Critics Circle Award for The Undiscovered Country. I’d read and enjoyed many of the pieces in Our Savage Art when they appeared in The New Criterion and elsewhere. (Sample opening line: “John Ashbery has long threatened to become a public monument, visited mainly by schoolchildren and pigeons.”) But I’d missed a 2002 Contemporary Poetry Review interview with Logan by the poet and critic Garrick Davis that’s reprinted in the new book.

In the interview, Davis asks, “What do you think of the present situation of poetry? Of its current health as an art?” Logan replies:

“I distrust the motives of the question. Much of what we dislike about the poetry around us won’t bother the readers of the future, because it will have been forgotten. I doubt even the Pulitzer Prize winners of the past two decades will have many poems in anthologies half a century from now. This isn’t simply a problem with the prize, though it’s a scandal that Amy Clampitt never won it and another that Gjertrud Schnackenberg has yet to win it.

“Our poetry is healthy, if the sole measure is that there’s a hell of a lot of it. Much is mediocre, but most poetry in any period is mediocre. What bothers me, as a reader, is how slim current ambitions are – too many contemporary poems start small and end smaller. They don’t bite off more than they can chew – they bite off so little they don’t need to chew.”


  1. I have to agree with his opinion. Mediocre at a bast. Poetry has lost it’s soul. Its become the “all about me” generation of poetry with a market that his been flooded with self publuihed books and publishing compannys that feed off of the vanity. Romance is dead. It’s about economy or anti- depression driven angst. And for all the form poetry I see online still they have forgotten the roots of poetry in genearl that “cutting edge” and modern poetry has become nothing more than an apathetic rant or a sterile emotionless cryptogram that I can get those out of the news paper. Then again, poetry always has been a reflection of the times and I don’t think people much want to remember what is goingon in the world today unless you are uber rich and then nobody cares.

    Comment by Charles — July 2, 2009 @ 6:21 am | Reply

    • “Cryptogram” is a great word for many of the poems you see now. Thanks for such an apt comment.

      Logan has much more to say on the state of contemporary poetry and poetry criticism (in Our Savage Art and other books) that I’ve quoted on this site.

      Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — July 2, 2009 @ 12:29 pm | Reply

  2. I will certainly look for this book. The take on current poetry is an interesting one, and the line about John Ashbery stirred a memory. I had a chance to talk to John at a reading in February of 2007. In the course of our conversation the “State of Poetry” came up, and John seemed to sum it up rather well: “When I started writing fifty years ago, poetry was in deep trouble, and it would seem it is still in touble. Yet somehow a lot of really great poetry gets written. So poetry is in trouble again… Well, I wouldn’t have it any other way.” As one avid poetry reader (and occasionally a poetry writer), neither would I.

    Comment by kenwrites2 — July 2, 2009 @ 7:18 pm | Reply

    • Nice story about Ashbery. Thanks!

      It seems that every age needs to have its own discussions about the “state of poetry” (and the arts in general). And I always find them interesting.

      Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — July 2, 2009 @ 9:37 pm | Reply

  3. […] Is the State of Contemporary Poetry Healthy? – Quote of the Day / William Logan […]

    Pingback by Poetry News For July 3, 2009 | Poetry Hut Blog — July 3, 2009 @ 1:40 am | Reply

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