Monday, March 12, 2007

David Orr: Drawn to Heat and Conflict

Whether you agree or disagree with John Barr's tract on The State of Poetry Today (which, however rickety it may have first appeared, increasingly seems to have achieved near-earth orbit alongside similarly shouted-about essays like Dana Gioia's "Can Poetry Matter?"), you have to give him credit for igniting a large and lively discussion.

David Orr, resident poetry critic for The New York Times, is the latest to weigh in, with an essay in yesterday's paper ("Annals of Poetry") that assesses Dana Goodyear's assessment of the brouhaha. Orr is kind of like the Predator of the poetry community, attracted to areas of conflict where he can prowl among the combatants and maybe do a little hunting of his own. A few years ago, for example, he wittily chronicled August Kleinzahler's attack on Garrison Keillor's anthology Good Poems. He is also known for very neatly skewering Jorie Graham.

In this latest piece, Orr questions Goodyear's article and calls The New Yorker to task for pimping poems for the sake of its literary reputation in the magazine market. I personally am glad that The New Yorker continues to print poetry, but I agree with Orr's point that its efforts to straddle several different readerships means that it sometimes makes questionable decisions about what it purveys ("bad poems by excellent poets," he says).

More to the point, I agree with his moderate take on Barr's essay and the Poetry Foundation's efforts to coax American poetry out of its cloister. It captures my own views better than anything else I've read yet.

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