Over the past three years, I've received approximately 350 emails in response to The Boston Comment. Below you will find a small sampling of these emails from each of the seven articles.

Note: "Post-Post Dementia" also includes comments published on various "blogs."

      - Joan Houlihan        

Essay 7: Post-Post Dementia

Essay 6: The Sound of One Wing Flapping

Essay 5: If Only We Couldn't Understand Them

Essay 4: The Best I Can Do This Year

Essay 3: The Argument For Silence

Essay 2: I=N=C=O=H=E=R=E=N=T

Essay 1: On The Prosing of Poetry

Essay 7: Post-Post Dementia

Note:The mail for this essay is divided into three groups for easy reading: Positive, Negative, and Unintelligible.


Many thanks for your calm and rational critique of "Fence" and its constituents.  I'm sure you'll take some heat for your comments (which I can only hope might be productive and posed in a well-intended rhetorical spirit--perhaps this is foolishly optimistic), and so I just wanted calmly to nod my assent. 

Nicholas Allen Harp 

It is wonderfully satisfying to read your unflinching assaults on language poetry and the post-post poets. Language poetry ultimately betrays and hangs itself with its own ideology, and as such is art without integrity. What is disturbing is our readiness as readers and critics to eat mud and call it fruit.

hans beihl

I really enjoyed "Post-Post Dementia": clever, intelligent writing.  It reminds me of some of the great funny-savage reviews of Randall Jarrell. 

David Starkey

What courage you have, to tell the truth as you see it (and as I see it.)  Thank you.

Jeanetta L. Calhoun

i enjoy your articles and i agree with you completely.  if only it weren't too totalitarian to wish that all these aesthetic diseases be strapped to polls and summarily executed, i'd wish it.  thankfully you are out there at least trying to shame them into obeisance.

Dan Moore

You're especially on target since it's ALWAYS been this way in poetry.

Michael Orth

Paul Valery put it best: "Everything changes, except the avantgarde." (Or the "post-avant," or the School of Noisiness, etc. . . .)

Bill Knott

A lot of people are deriding & dismissing Houlihan (as poet, as stylist, etc): not many are actually grappling with the substance of her sharp funny jabs.

Henry Gould

Houlihan's contention is rather simple-- she maintains that this poem is an essentially random composition without any real meaning. Without speculating on the poet's motives and methods I'm not sure I disagree with her take on the result. Putting some words down and relying on an apparent richness in their connotations that allows the reader to infer connections is not writing a poem. It isn't actually random, but neither is it (in my opinion) particularly artistic or forceful.

Chris Lott

I think what really bugs people is how efficiently Houlihan takes down sacred cows. Where BKS finds her "unreadable" I don't follow - is she too concise for your taste? Not prolix & patronizing enough? Her little essay on Langpo is classic demolition. Her critique of the bland & cliched accessible-poetics of a Billy Collins is right on. Her blast against the empty, aesthetically-null verbiage of such poems as represented in Fence was also a bull's-eye.

Henry Gould

Fence Magazine solicited me to submit some poems to them, and I refused. . . . most of the poetry they publish seems to me to be elitist, intended deliberately for a coterie of initiates who wish to remain holier than thou in the Mallarmean sense: "Everything that wishes to remain holy must surround itself with mystery" is the commandment you "post-avants" in the School of Noisiness must never disobey. . . . And so you gird-guard your work with difficulties and densities and obscurities intended to keep the unholy, the masses, far away. . . Why? According to you, because the zeitgeist demands it. . . . The age demands it. (A couplet by Ernest Hemingway comes to mind: "And in the end the age was handed / The sort of shit that it demanded.")

In my opinion, or agenda, Houlihan isn't your real problem, anyway. . . . She's just a strawperson you've propped up to take easy potshots at.

Bill Knott


It's funny, your poems don't suck as much as I thought they would based on the idiocy of your essay.

Rebecca Wolff, Editor Fence

I won't waste time addressing most of your asinine and labored arguments. I just want to make a few comments regarding your gross stupidities and generalizations.

Dale Smith, Editor Skanky Possum

I haven't had a long time to go over all of these comments, Dale's piece, etc. -- can't believe he even bothered to write her, frankly, she's unreadable.

Brian Stefans

Houlihan doesn't know how to read post-avant work in any of its varieties & can't even see the differences when they're up front & fairly obvious.

Ron Silliman

Her response to Language poetry reminds me of myself at age 16 -- and man was I fucked up in the head.

a blogger

I remember in her review of a past Best American Poetry anthology Houlihan quotes lines from a Hejinian in a round-up of lines so obviously bad Houlihan was left speechless. Should be her usual state, right?

another blog

After reading your "post-post dementia" article today I wondered out loud with my co-editor at Skanky Possum, Hoa Nguyen: "is she brain-damaged?" "She," let's be clear, since you need such clarity and "coherence," is you, Joan Houlihan.

Who else?

The woman's arguments are logical fallacies -- sarcasm, ad hominem, scorn.

Glenn Ingersoll

The ability to admire, take pleasure from work which one can't write about from a position of mastery is crucial--if one cultivates it, it becomes central to one's reading experience; if one dosen't, I suspect, one ends up hardening into a Houlihan......

Nick LoLordo

I was like, "Joan Houlihan, you're a total retard."

Rebecca Wolff, Editor, Fence

i beg you to keep your antequated, NOSTALGIC, crappy ideas about literature to yourself.

Charles Ebersole

I worry that Joan has fixed herself so severely in her stance of what is "correct" that she is no longer able to enter any poetry that strives to go beyond that set of limitations, and THAT is what makes her unable to see eye to eye with anyone not working within her idea of what poetry is, or should do.


Logically, someone might be a good critic and a bad poet. What struck me was that the [her] poetry was bad in a way that revealed a complete lack of critical self-awareness. If it were merely dull or limited, I wouldn't have reacted in the same way.

Jonathan Mayhew

As my Momma used to say, "A gal just looks plain ugly when she trash talks." Or in another variation, "Why say 'bitch' when you can say 'witch' with a lot more class?"

Shanna Compton

Does Joan Houlihan just dump her unfair polemical wit-bites on folks and then go hide?

Chris Murray

are you an idiot? 

Charles Ebersole

She doesn't, and will not, get it.

Jim Berhle

Houlihan's diatribe reveals a fundamental incoherence not just in her own thinking, but in a much larger set of social attitudes and assumptions about poetry. 


The problem is that a critic like Houlihan (her article is frankly, an inept case of an argument that can be more competently made) wants to snip off part of the range [of different approaches to poetry], dismiss it out of hand. That's not good-- not in music, painting, poetry, or astronomy. Parra is great. Pessoa is great. Palmer is great. Etc. There is matter, and anti-matter, and dark matter, and who knows what else. No?

Kent Johnson

Joan Houlihan will go away. They always do. Eventually.


Where is the substance in Houlihan's essays, anyway? I haven't found it yet.

Jonathan Mayhew


I mean, it's an honor to register on your "post-post dementia" radar. A day after George Bush sold us more security in the Middle East for 87 billion dollars I see nothing but dementia on the domestic landscape. Halliburton's "meaning" and "coherence" escalates a decline in human relations, meaningful or not—whatever your definition. What is meaningful in a post-human, post-American global economy fuelled by fear, terror and authoritarian claims on personal and domestic rights? From the academic halls to the littered bus stop behind our house, we live in a nation really beyond dementia. We're in retreat from reality because it's hideous to behold. And if poetry begins to look more and more like the complicated screens on CNN, it's because that's the world most people live in. That projected reality is more complex and dangerous than the static narrative voids you might embrace. Either way, mainstream verse, Halliburton, CNN—it's all a dead end anyway. Time to find new sources of hope!

Dale Smith Skanky Possum

Speaking of Bernstein, it's ironic to see Skanky Possum mentioned in your article.

Dale Smith

I once passed a painter on the sidewalk who ranted while he filled the canvas. "Matisse, Kline, Grant Wood.... they have nothing on me! I am the greatest painter!" No one corrected, poor guy, but a few looked like they wanted to drop some change into his coffee can of brushes. But he was too scary. Houlihan seems to be in a similar position.

D. Bouchard

I always enjoy when critics, like Joan, pull out the old garden hose to try and clean up the "new" poetries. They look so silly.

Ian Wilson

I often wonder how an adult in this country can still be so afraid of issues of economy, politics, the occult and anything else located in the particularities of our moment in history.

Dale Smith

Joan H. assumes that the point is to create a random, meaningless utterance, but the poem is ABOUT meaning and the production of an axiomatic utterance. (Where the critic reads it simply as the unwillingness or failure to produce such an utterance).

Jonathan Mayhew

Houlihan defines herself as a poet and her poetry is therefore fair game. I even think we're obligated to consider her poetry in this case, because it's something that we can demonstably show that a) we know where to "locate" her work in a way she doesn't know how to locate the work she criticizes; b) we can show that even by what we presume are her own standards it's just not that good.

Josh (Corey?)

If poetry is like a worm for cognitive appraisal, the prose garbage Hooly-hand writes is the best poem of all for acting as a generative stimulus to bang-bang all the toroids of poets set in motion by the pen of idiots, let us say the banal is a woman and the marvelous is a man with no legs, who wins the butter churning context, a spy or a volume of uneducated drifters on the outskirts of an unborn science of signals.

bon teriyaki

Educate yourself on the diverse forms surrounding us. Please consider these complex occasions of forces before marching forward again with your demented essays on poetry. If you want specifics on these forces, find out yourself.

Dale Smith

I've got no problem with simplicity. But this meaning vs. meaningless, coherence vs. its opposite debate is just too useless to continue. A poem functions by virtue of its own evidence. The poem I think is indifferent to issues of simplicity or complexity. Its an enironment unto itself. A living thing. To address it other is reductive and wastes a lot of time. Hence, Houlihan can only sputter without ever reaching any true depth--she can't so it seems accept the evidence of the poem. So she stretches it into quibbles with "meaning."

Dale Smith

the idea of  “mainstream” seems to be a concern of yours and a  maintenance of historical connection. I will leave out any comments on  such breakthrough artist such as as: Emily Dickinson, Julian of  Norwish, Christine de Pizan, Marchel Duchamp, Raphael, the  impressionist, James Joyce, Allen Ginesberg,  dizzy gillespie,   Rableis, and Beckett, (the list could go on to include to many that  have now become mainstream). again mainstream and tradition. Are you  talking the proper place for woman? how about slaves? or maybe a  repressive monarchy? what tradition are you talking about and what main  stream. or maybe you are talking about the mainstream of prosecution of  jews..now there is a long stading tradition. and HOW AOBUT THEM  HOMOSEXUALS . . .  ... I think you miss the entire point.. the  mainstream “narrative” does not have a great history, and yet you want  to maintain it.

kari edwards

Essay 6: The Sound of One Wing Flapping

Joan: This is just to say that your essay on blurbing is--how can I say this without it sounding like a blurb?--hilariously true. It should be required reading in MFA programs.

Anthony Lombardy

Dear Joan: I just discovered your essay on blurbs, and must applaud you for your wonderful sense of humor. You took the words right out of my mouth -- if it was capable of producing such words.

Kevin Tsai

Ok, Joan. Read your article on WDS. Here's my question: will your book cover have blurbs?

Lillian Kennedy

Beautiful writing. You criticise with insight rather than with mere scorn.

Sincerely, a reader in Baltimore

I just read your piece on poetry blurbs and it strikes me as "gutbusting observations that shine more than a scintilla of light on the dark lunacy of contemporary poetry." Very funny piece, even if it is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel. Most contemporary poetry deserves to be shot--hung up on rifle ranges for target practice. A good recycling of all that wasted paper.

Susan Balee

Thanks, Joan. I thought I was the only one who brought home poetry books with blurbs on the back which were puzzling but clearly meant to indicate that anyone who didn't find these poems dazzling and profound was incapable of recognizing real poetry--and then reading the poems within only to find them utterly unintelligible. I think they write these things consciously eradicating any shred of meaning. About time somebody said so.


Alice Schertle

Dear Ms. Houlihan: Thank you very much for your wonderful piece on the hyperbolic poetic blurbmeisters.

Lillian Kennedy

Dear Joan Houlihan: As always, you are a treasure. This article on blurbs is delightful, and right on target.

Richard Carter

Essay 5: If Only We Couldn't Understand Them

Dear Joan Houlihan: Your essay in the Boston Comment is dead-on and wonderful. "Original language in service of difficult meaning" is a wonderful definition of great poetry. Beautiful about the Franz Wright poem as well. I look forward to reading more of your criticism.

Yours truly, David Blair

I agree wholeheartedly with your essay. We have reached the age where poetry, as handled by such people as Billy Collins and Ellen Bass is simply a glorified shopping list. It does not deal with the grand moments of life: the "opera" of being...but instead gives us a daily dose of cream of wheat.. the flat prose is like flat tires, thumping along a familiar highway with no hope of ever reaching anything but the nearest rest stop. Forgive the metaphor. Thanks for the essay.

Adrianne Marcus

Dear Joan: this is just a small note to say that I have read your recent essay in that Boston Comment of yours, and it is brilliant. I love it.

Well, that is my small note. God bless your writing hand.

Ilya Kaminsky

Kudos to Joan Houlihan for debunking the would-be icon, Ellen Bass. Not even the legitimacy of Collins (who was likely a "paid spokesman") could prop up the leeward leaning "Mules of Love." Ms. Bass amassed great fortune with her pop-psy book, but did so at the expense of many hypno-suggestive people who may or may not have experienced the real trauma of childhood sexual abuse. "If you think it happened, it did" is the missive of her book, and with no greater evidence than the murk of repressed memory, she invites her readers to begin a life of retaliation and victimhood. In the same genre that gave us "primal scream therapy," and "rebirthing" baptisms, Ms. Bass has attained a pseudo-celebrity status that rivals the Oprhaesque stature of those who tout "inner child" healing as so! me sort of new religion. Shame on her to use this platform as an attempt to launch herself as a "serious" poet. One can only hope that she ends in the same waste bin as Jewel, Ally Sheedy, Leonard Nimoy, Paul McCartney, (and even Russell Crowe), who thought notoriety license to wax poetic. May many more dead branches be lopped by your axe, Ms. Houlihan. Thanks for having The Courage To Squeal.

Ken Ashworth

Ms. Houlihan: How refreshing! An incisive critique of the ss (Sorry State) of "contempampo" which is neither simple-minded nor shallow: i.e. does not act as if Language Poetry is new (or matters) or ideology (read:PC) is The Answer. Your lucid piece recognizes how complex the art of poetry can be, should be, its many depths beneath its shifting surfaces, like three bodies skating at once a clean line across hard ice. Congratulations. Most salutary.

I wish you well with your work.

And, where can I get the first 4 parts?

Stan Sanvel Rubin

I just wanted to let you know that I enjoyed your commentary on Contemporary Poetry and the debate between Clear and Obscure poems. I have always been on the side of Clarity because I had read many poems that I felt were made difficult for the sake of difficulty---kind of along the lines of 'no pain no gain' and all that. But you made a very convincing case that too often, very accessible poems really have nothing accessible at all. I too have enjoyed Billy Collins' work but felt that his success was because of his comedic, witty flair. I have attended his readings and they have been 'crowd pleasers.' You made some very salient points when you analyzed Ellen Bass' recent book. It was refreshing to see because I read too many reviews that are just pump pieces and I find it discouraging.

thanks again, barbara matteau

I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your five-part essay about the state of published poetry today. Actually I think that my subject line is misleading. There are people out there writing good, exciting, innovative poems but very few outlets are deeming them worthy of publishing.

I agreed with almost everything you had to say in your essays (and that rarely happens for me). Thank you for pointing out that most poetry published today is not only below par, but not worth wasting one's time on. This is such as shame as the glutting of the marketplace with such bad poems makes the general reader think that all poets are bad and that there is nothing of any quality being written (far from true).

Keep up the good work! And please keep up the close analysis of what some publications consider good poetry. I don't think many critics today have the courage to take a poem deemed good by other critics/publishers etc. and to closely analyze it thereby showing the reader that no, this is not a good piece of writing.

Looking forward to more great criticism from you.

Sincerely, Aylin An

I enjoyed your brave and constructive articles thoroughly. I laughed a lot too. I hope it doesn't cost you too many cocktail party invitations.

Kathleen Flenniken

Dear Joan Houlihan-- Just wanted to let you know how much I admired your series of essays on poetry. As it happens, I am just finishing up a piece along similar lines on the topic of bluff the art world; I only hope that my essay, when it comes out, proves as provocative and perceptive.

Sincerely, Mark Goldblatt

Thank you for your poetry #5 essay. It captures everything that bothers me about so much contemporary poetry.

I'm about to go on and read the first four.

Tad Richards

Just to say how much I enjoyed your essay. The choice of the Wright poem to close was masterful---a fine example of what a poem ought to do. Thank you.

Leonard Sanazaro

Essay 4: The Best I Can Do This Year

Bravo, bravo and thank you thank, you for your fine article punching the lights out of the shredded prose pushers and that fiendish "Best..." series. And your rebuttal was a companssionate but clean coup de grace.

My name is Doug Anderson I am a poet and I edit a lit rag here in Seattle called "klang" (on the web at klang.bizland.com). I always approach the "Best.." series hoping to read something that will capture the pathos and ingenuity of American life. I look to poetry as a medium that conveys truth in beautiful, free, strange ways; I'm always hoping to be floored or seduced when I read it. But I always finish those anthologies with the disappointment and incredulity that you express so well.

Keep up the good work
and best, Doug Anderson

Dear Joan Houlihan, I could not agree with you more, or more sadly, in your lament over "B... Poems of". Mightn't the problem begin with the magazines, which are the pawnshops where an editor has to find the 'goods' desperately sought and which have been gathering points of mediocre work for many decades. Still, I suppose the old idea may be true -- was it Pound's? -- that the miry swamp is necessary to the growth of an occasional orchid. What's needed is some intermediate searching and assessing, before the candidates hit the desk of a Hass. How's that to be contrived in a 'democracy of letters'? Regional collections of "poems worth considering"? Where would the market be?

Anyway, thanks for saying what is so.

Michael Magie

Thank you for articulating so well what so many of us think. Bravo!

Deborah Tobola

You made my day, Joan Houlihan. I'm beaming your piece to every poet I know, except the ones who have already beamed it to me!

On-damn-ward! Clarinda Harriss

Yuk-Yukalicious writing! Thanks for having the courage to say what you did.

Adrian C. Louis

Dear Ms. Houlihan: I just read your essay on the Best American Poetry series and couldn't agree more. (I'm sure you've been inundated with readers saying the same thing.) I have a past issue that I've been trying to force myself to wade through for months. Upon finishing your essay, I've decided to give it up.

I know there was at least one year that I liked the anthology, perhaps due to the guest editor, but since then I've never enjoyed it. I'm glad to hear the fault doesn't lie with me this time around!

Thanks for the essay, Lisa Beyer

Brilliant piece on the annual poetaster series. Thank you.

J. Patrick Lewis

re: Part IV Good show Joan; Please continue to rattle the bars.

Best Doug Anderson Seattle

Joan, Now, I don't feel so bad about opening up a journal or collection and wincing. Glad someone's saying it.


Ms. Houlihan, Thank you for the insightful review of "The Best of American Poetry 2001". I much appreciated your view that, absent some standard, we have no 'best'. (I was sorry that you, or I, or for that matter, poor Mr. Haas, had to be exposed to the excerpts from the volume contained in your article. I can only imagine the anguish suffered by anyone who had to read mounds of poetry worse than this.)

You did a nice job pointing out the fallcies of Mr. Lehmans' assumptions. In fact, perhaps the ONLY thing worse than the hijacking of poetry by a self-appointed literati is the 'dumbing down' of poetry to include everything. I don't know if this is dictated by post-structuralist analysis or simply the desire to 'grow the poetry biz', as you point out with delightful cynicism.

Thanks Again, Brad Gregory

I appreciate so much that you've exposed contemporary poetry's secret again. I think a whistle should be blown everyday until this arrogant breed addresses an audience other than itself.

Sincerely, Jack M. Dashiell

bravo! where did you learn how to do this?

Larry Hathaway

Thankyouthankyouthankyou (Re the Best American Poetry)

I thought it was just me

John Askins

Ms. Houlihan, Thank you so much for your review of this year's Best American Poetry. I buy this series sporadically and this year, when I heard that Hass had edited it, I promptly ordered it. To my dismay! My test of a "best" poem is: do I feel compelled to read it aloud to someone? There are very few of those in this volume.

I do have to add, though, that I never expect to find that even a third of the poems would go in my own "best" list--de gustibus and all that--and that previous volumes have been pretty satisfying (Simic, Ammons, Rich's) overall. I think Hass was trying to flatter every camp, that politics of one kind or another was the ruling factor in his choices.

I appreciate your bravely speaking up in an arena where making nice-nice seems to be the rule.

Best, Athena Kildegaard

Thanks for the review on Best American Poetry 2001. I laughed aloud while my spirit sank. Then I read you aloud, feeling, I guess, that your own essay had rhythm and style and merit that outweighed almost everything called poetry I've read recently.

Marcia Brown

Thanks. I teach poetry, not creative writing but intro to and Modern British Poetry at the University of Toledo. I came across your essay on the Arts and Letters Daily web site that I use to get into the NY TIMES. Thanks for saying some wonderful commonsense things, for standing up for some commonsense values that don't seem very common any more. I admire anyone who can say clearly what you said without sounding like a curmudgeon.

Ben Lindsay

Your essays are an oasis in the desert of contemporary poetry.

Best, Paul Jaminet

Joan, Just read "The Best I Can Do This Year" at Sol. I hadn't laughed in a couple of weeks. Now I have, thanks to you. KUTGW*

[*Web initialism for Keep Up The Good Work]

Don Cunningham

Dear Ms. Houlihan: David Lehman's greatest failure is in packaging and labeling.

If he were to call them "Best American Joke Poetry" anthologies and get them shelved in the humor section, they would sell like hotcakes.

You're the best, most incisive poetry critic in the country.

Keep up the good work!

Jared Carter

Dear Joan, Your review was a breath of fresh air. Thank you for making this old poetry lover's otherwise dull morning. A few more like you and the emperors of the poetry establishment may wake up and admit that they have no clothes. Keep on keeping on.

Marty Egan clifton Park, NY

Excellent review of Best Poetry and of the all too obvious sad state of affairs it illustrates...

Best regards, Matt Nesvisky

Dear Joan, Thank you for being so intelligent! I love you! I wanted to tell you I've linked to your article "incoherent," which I loved, through my Bernstein page, at literaryhistory.com.

Jan Pridmore

Essay 3: The Argument for Silence

Dear Ms. Houlihan, What a refreshingly blunt and accurate article – just when I had begun to suspect that no one in a serious critical position was willing to don their reading glasses. The emperors/esses – and they are legion – have been lacking clothes for some time by my lights.

… No wonder poetry continues its slide into obscurity, unmourned by a broader public, except in the arenas of oral tradition where academic and publication credits are irrelevant, and the ‘net where the riot of free speech still allows uncensored (and censorship is what publications practice) brilliance and originality to flash to the surface of the ocean of garbage.

Squeeze my heart like fruit; make it bleed, sing, scream; rape its pretensions, trammel it in the mud or tether it to a solar wind. Just don’t let it desiccate safely in arid, climate-controlled verse of even-tempered, risk-averse poets and the editors complicit in their ruination.

Namaste Parris Garnier

Ms. Houlihan, I haven't read such a beautiful series of academic ass-kicking in a long long time. I know a lot of us who mourn the depreciation of genuine poetic stock and the PBS-ification of all things creative, but never have I seen or heard the arguments so well-planned, well-crafted, and just laugh out loud funny. Kudos on the columns and thanks for giving me a handful of belly laughs.

Mike Mellor

Another great article at Boston Comment. I almost laughed out loud at your comments vis a vis Oliver -- how right on.

Regards, Jeffery L. Bahr

Dear Ms. Houlihan, Thanks for your highly invigorating article on contemporary American poets: You are so right it hurts. Sincerely,

Vassilis Zambaras

Great essay on the mass-production of poetry. Many poets these days seem to be pumping out close to a book a year! (One thinks of W.S. Merwin and others.) They are not doing poetry or themselves much justice in this way. I am glad you have spoken out--and spoken well--on this issue.

Enjoyed, Alicia Stallings

thanks for actually having the ovaries to say something some of us have felt for a long time now. As a minimally-published poet, i wondered if sour grapes weren't the cause for my indigestion after reading the latest book by the over-published poet. i'll lay off the Zantac now i know i'm not the only one who feels this way!

keep it up jeanetta l. calhoun

Hi, Joan-- Just read your latest Boston Comment arguing for silence... tough-minded, clear and very refreshing. Amazing how speaking the truth, even in prose, carries with it the ring of poetry.

Robert Sward

Inspired. Your essay had all the compression and intensity not found in Levine, Tate, and Oliver. But the list could be easily lengthened by thumbing through random college catalogs. Here in Buffalo, for example, we have Creeley and Irving Feldman still writing away though their muses have been on Social Security for years.

Please let me know where I can find some of your other essays.

Kindest regards, Katharine Daly

Dear Ms. Houlihan: I've just read your third Web del Sol essay. Marvelous. Brilliant. You've done it again. Many thanks.

Jared Carter

Amen; the same goes for musicians who crank out a CD every 14 months to satiate corporate greed.

Cordially, Gregg Dippold

it has been spoken! Thank you for naming it.

J. Scott Bond

Dear Joan Houlihan -- Just yesterday I came across your Essay III on the Arts & Letters Daily site and immediately sent it off to four thinking people -- all poetry lovers, two of them academicians -- under the subject title above (“About time somebody said this.”) In other words, with my wholehearted endorsement.

These are things that need to be said, and I have been saying them, but not in print, for some time. Thanks to you, I don't feel quite so isolate anymore…

Cordially, Frank Fagan

Your piece about the rapid deterioration of poetry was excellent. A welcome, refreshing slap in the face. Hope it is heeded--although I doubt it as long as Maya Angelou roams the land.

I wrote something similar (ahem) in Poetry Canada Review years back, calling for a moratorium on the words

cat moon mountain love body bread blood desire photograph

which were cluttering up 90% of Canadian poems at the time. Of course, everyone called me a bitch and kept on writing crap.

I have emailed your piece to some sympathetic fellow Canuck scribes. Will be on the lookout for more of your writing.

Kathy Shaidle

Joan H.: Once again you're bravely on the money with your essay in Web Del Sol.

Don Cunningham

Hello Joan. I write simply to say that I enjoyed your article on the Peter Principle in modern poetry. Couldn't agree more! What about writing one on the Peter Principle in modern art? Now, there's a real need!

Thanks so much.

Mandy Nelson Christchurch,
New Zealand

They do need sabbaticals from poetry! Thanks for another inspiring and truth-naming piece, Joan.

Kelly Cherry

Ms. Houlihan, Your series of essays ("How Contemporary American Poets Are Denaturing the Poem") is right on the mark, and, in the relatively small world of poetry, an exceptional and courageous venture. What you're doing reminds me of some of the insights of Thomas Disch in his 1995 book The Castle of Indolence: On Poetry, Poets, and Poetasters— as essay collection that I'm confident you're aware of. I appreciate your intelligence and straightforwardness.

Bob Fauteux

Joan-- Just came across your work via Arts & Letters Daily. Read the essay included there, then went back and read the other two. Enjoyed them all. How refreshing it is to read poetry criticism that is this clear, crisp, and pungent.

Richard McLeese

kudos! all hail! bravo bravo bravo for the newest "boston comment." oh, it hits the spot. joan, you have done us all a great service with this one, and you will almost certainly get nasty emails from the partisans about the terrible crime you have committed against american poetry. but you have committed no crime-- you have done what needs doing.

if robert bly were the robert bly of 40 years ago, he'd be publishing you in "the sixties"! marvelous. keep up the good work.

Cooper S. Renner

Joan, Re: The most recent Boston Comment. Excellent, incisive commentary. I was appalled by a recent issue of The Kenyon Review, for many of the same reasons you cite in your article. And from a personal standpoint, I know that judicious use of the sabbatical only produces better poetry in the end.

Best wishes, Seth Abramson

Have been reading your Boston Comments series... At last...someone who will say the emperor has no clothes. Is web del sol the only place to find your work?

Randy Lusk

Kudos..The "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" reference made me laugh out loud. You're funny & incisive. And not mean-spirited; you obviously love good poetry, but you're worn out reading all the crap.

Do you have a book of essays? Poetry? Let me know so I can place an order.

Respectfully, Larry Gaffney

Essay 2: I=N=C=O=H=E=R=E=N=T

This is the best thing I have read on the state of contemporary poetry. THANK YOU! I read thousands of submissions and it is so depressing to see dull and boring teachers in dull and boring programs producing more dull and boring writers. Thanks for pointing at the emperor and telling the truth.

Best, Ellen Dudley

Dear Joan: I just read part II of your essay on Language Poetry and am delighted to finally find someone who can say something that is meaningful (already that's two strikes against you?!) No, really I loved your reasoning, your explanations, your examples and your solid good sense. It was a pleasure to find someone as articulate as you are PLUS with a sense of humor to boot. Is your Part I still on the WEB because I'd like to read it as well.

Keep doing what you're doing.

Ruth Daigon

I couldn't agree with you more. I guess it's a lot like the "emperor's new clothes". No one wants to speak up about this dreadful assault on literature for fear of seeming ingorant, or (worse yet) overly capitalistic and Western. Thanks for having the courage to speak freely. I hope your insightful, well-researched, coherent article will make a difference.

Robin, San Lorenzo, CA

Thank you! That was a lovely skewering of this crap--sorry--I'm not as elegantly dispassionate as you are. This stuff makes me furious--such arrogance, such "we happy few" condescension! I want my poets passionate, enthralled, rapturous, transcendant--and full of duende. These withered cerebralists are appalling. Ann Medlock

I tend to think it (language poetry) is one of the reasons poetry has been flushed down the toilet by the mainstream. I do not write for the mainstream but, I certainly would like to believe that at least some of my stuff is coherent enough for 'regular folk' to get the gist of. And actually I think that poetry should have a purpose, the purpose being to help people think, preferably independent thoughts. I'm going to try and start a movement I'm calling 'Commonism'. *That with the Post Modern Realism and the 'Project'. The purpose is to try to revitalize an interest in poetry in the mainstream. Good writing. I enjoyed the read.

Thanks, Blair Allen

Bravo! I agree completely with your assessment of these no-talent hacks. They, like other proponents of arcane literary theories that bugger common sense, need to be removed by their vegetative roots. Raus mit!

David Schwankle

Ms. Houlihan, Ten years ago, as a workshop student, I shared your opinions of the Language Writers. Since then I've reconsidered that position. I've no real interest in trying to argue you toward my new understanding of their work, but I offer some of the texts that changed my views, just for the hellofit:

Susan Howe
The Birth-mark

Charles Bernstein
A Poetics

Bob Perelman
Marginalization of Poetry
Ten to One

Bruce Andrews
I Don't Have Any Paper So Shut Up (or, Social Romanticism)

Joan Retallack
How to Do Things With Words

Nathaniel Mackey
Discrepant Engagement
Whatsaid Serif

I think you'll find that some stereotypes about Language Writers--that they are humorless and talentless academic hacks, for example--are quite unjust and are based in a limited reading of their work. Bernstein, for example, can be quite funny. Howe, I would argue, is very talented, as can be seen in the "Articulation of Sound Forms in Time" section of Singularities. Everything by Mackey is worth reading--I think he's brilliant, despite a tendency to come over as an asshole in person.

Also keep in mind that the lines between the Langpo and Workpo camps are blurry these days. Perelman spent a year or more teaching at the Iowa Workshop at the invitation of Jorie Graham (whose own work is very Langpoety, esp after The End of Beauty). And past and current Workpoets of Iowa, like James Tate and Dean Young, are very close in interests and poetic production to many of the Language Writers in the list above.

No matter what you hear, there is always meaning in a Language Poem--just as Stein's Tender Buttons are full of meaning. That's part of the jokiness of some Langpoet oddities. The only thing you don't really get is the prose-narrative-in-lines effect; even so, some of the arch-Langpoets like Silliman will give you the odd bit of prose when in the mood.

I hope those few points give you incentive to try these folks again--a lot of it is crap, but then again, so is a lot of the other stuff.

J. P. Craig

I liked your web del sol article and the poems linked to it. Keep the banners of coherence flying.

Frank Pool Austin, Texas

Dear Ms. Houlihan, I enjoyed reading your essay (parts 1 and 2) on this subject--it's something that has needed to be addressed for a while. I think your examples in part 1 are very persuasive; when I read Bly's 1999 Best American Poetry, I was mystified and a bit frustrated, wondering the same thing: why so many flat, essentially boring pieces? Was Bly picking poets he respected for their overall body of work, without worrying or looking closely at these really poor individual pieces? Thanks for taking him to task.

I think it's contemporary poets' misuse of Williams--and not Williams' himself--that has turned his legitimate epigrams into something they are not. "This is Just to Say" seems, to me, to suggest its raison-d'etre in its title: a short playful note between busy husband and wife. Its sexual suggestiveness goes both ways, too: towards kidding (ie, you're so sweet and cold, my plum) and towards a serious version of this (ie I am slowly realizing how sweetly cold you are). But I agree it's not representative of the full extent of what poetry can do. It's being used as a touchstone for flat writing. There is no better proof that such writers are poor readers.

Yet it's hard to make any poem, even great ones, into a touchstone for poetry. Touchstones have an artificially limiting effect. To me, this is where the Victorian-era writers went wrong: their over-confidence in what poetry had to do to "be" poetry resulted in pieces full of literary technique but ultimately banal verse. You can't label and reproduce the poetry in poetry. Literary terms try to explain why a poem works, but we know that with the best poems, the explanations proliferate beyond usefulness. The least we can do, though, is point out poems that don't rise to the level of poetry at all--which you do very persuasively.

"The machinery of publication must have vigilant and knowledgeable editors, unafraid to publish excellent, unknown poets or to reject inferior poems from established poets‹even their friends." I agree.

Language poetry is various experimental ways of writing whose practitioners try to convince the rest of the writers that experimentation is the only place to be at. To me, experimental poetry is always a marginal thing: certain personalities are drawn to it by an irresistible desire to do something no one else is doing and which they themselves often don't truly understand (you've read their manifestos, you know how their praxis doesn't essentially match up--essentially fails--their theories).

Other personalities pick up these usually failed, misunderstood, and as-yet-meaningless experiments and turn their impulses and random discoveries into more polished, reader-friendly, meaningful work. Still other personalities imitate these literary explorers. Soon you have a status quo, a recognizable style.

Experimentation has had such a history of being snubbed, ignored, attacked, and then vindicated years later that the experimenters are in effect trying to be snubbed, vindicated and celebrated all at the same time. Readers are letting their consciousness of this historical process get in the way of their own direct response to a poem--it doesn't help that the publishing and scholarship are behind it. In effect, no one wants to be on the wrong side of history, laughing ignorantly at failed experimenters who may be the eventual winners. This is where courage is necessary. You have courage.

Sincerely, Derek Webster

Wow. And I thought I had brass balls. Just don't forget that asbestos trenchcoat and you'll be fine.

Seriously, be well, keep writing,

RJ McCaffery

Your two-part essay on contemporary American poetry astonished and horrified me. I had no idea that poetry, as well as prose, had succumbed to the enemies of structure. I encountered the term "pre-post-structuralist" recently in a book review, used by an Old Leftist evaluating the work of a New Leftist. What does it mean? Oops! How shallow of me to insist on "meaning." I am proudly a red diaper baby, but I don't understand the Marxian academic mind.

Thank goodness for non- "literary' fiction, since market-oriented writers must tell coherent tales.

Thank you very much for the illuminating articles.

Carol Anne Sundahl

Dear Joan,
Thank you for that most excellent article! I have always disliked language poetry, and it practitioners. I am often astounded at their assumptions, and their inability to see the obvious contradictions that they make when trying to justify their 'poetry.' The most glaringly obvious flaw in their reasoning is calling poetry 'part of the capitalist system' etc., etc., - didn't poetry exist well before there was any such notion of capitalism? I am a New Zealander - and the Maori people have a strong poetic tradition, one that is wholly oral - they are beautiful, cohrerant, lyrical narratives of epic journeys and heros, not unlike those of the ancient greeks. These existed long before European collonialisation. Similar examples can be found in virtually every society on Earth; a common human trait then, certainly not just a western concept or practice.

Democratising poetry? Language poetry? isn't it the most undemocratic, white middle-class art form of them all (along with installation art etc) - It alienates the public, and can only be appriciated (if this is possible and it is not just intellectial postering) by a select few intellectuals - who do not live in the real world, but the ivy covered hall of universities. Surely, the most democratic, classless poem is one that can be understood and appriciated by all.

William Robertson, Christschurch, New Zealand

Dear Ms. Houlihan,
Today, purely by chance, I found and was surprised and delighted by your two essays on "The Denaturing of the Poem". I read the second one (on Language Poetry) first, lured in by a squib in "Arts and Letters Daily", and was enchanted. Language Poetry, as described both in your words and those of the poets themselves, is clearly intellectually bankrupt, and I think your conclusion hit the nail on the head.

Sincerely, Will Duquette

Brava, Ms. Houlihan! You have been added to my short list for the Emperor Has No Clothes award. Those of us from the New Criticism generation (UC Berkeley, 1960) greatly appreciate your articles. There are some good arguments that the whole shoddy business stems from the intellectual corruption of French collaborators explaining in postwar times that "yes I wrote that (e.g., anti-semitic barbarity), but that's not what I really meant."

I expect to see your articles in the NYRB soon.

Best of luck, John Argue

Joan: Thank you. I laughed out loud at your fine constructive destruction of the Language Poetic pretense.

Bravo. RB Shea

I read with joy your wonderful essay on Language Poetry. This past summer I went to a writer's conferences (yes, I am one of those), and was totally overwhelmed by the language poets. I read Brenda Hillman and Dean Young to "suit up" for the occasion. Nothing could have been worse than to be in a room with people who "get" one another's language poetry. At the end of the second day I said aloud, "but what in the hell does it mean?" Of course, everyone looked at me like I was crazy. It took me a while to get onto Hillman's poem, "A Geology" and to read and reread until I could see the two comparisons she was making, but what I kept asking myself was, where is the enjoyment in reading?

Marilyn Bates

I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your article on Language Poetry in Web del Sol online and how refreshing it is to hear someone speak frankly about the emperor's new clothes. Your astute criticism shows clearly how little, truly, is going on in such work, and how important it is for a poem to mean, as well as be. Thanks, too, for the reminder of what a wonderful poem "Dolor" is. The previous article on "the prosing of poetry" also hit home. I look forward to future articles.

I also enjoyed your poems in the mini-chapbook, particularly "Hydrangeas."

All best, Jennifer Horne

Joan: I really enjoyed the gadfly attitude you've taken in your essays excoriating the two most popular trends in contemporary American poetry: lineated prose, and language poetry. Perhaps you'll take on the snobbish New Formalism sometime. I believe you were writing in the spirit of moving things forward as much as pointing out that the emperor is indeed naked. That feels good to one who recently went through grad school and had to wipe the ass of critical theory (& there was a lot of shit there).

I do, however, feel that you slighted both modes by not offering alternatives to mitigate the overwhelming rejection of the styles. There are poems in each of these genres that "work," that use the form honestly. Off the top of my head Robert Bly, Thomas Lux, and Jane Hirshfield come to mind as poets who write conversationally but whose lines are justified. The language poets, because of their posturing, are harder to defend, but a good part of your argument was based on the disconnection between the words and the sense of the words. I can't defend that as either a political or aesthetic sense, but it seems to me that the poetry of C.D. Wright, for instance, would make a good case for taking language to the limit of sensible connectedness. Hers is a poetry that bears a surface resemblance to language poetry, yet it is grounded in emotional logic, and a physical world. (If I knew Ann Lauterbach's poetry better, I might use her as well.) Susan Howe and Michael Palmer, who are linked stylistically to the language movement, have no political axes to grind; theirs is a difficult, sometimes frustrating, but honest means to an artistic end. My confusion in confronting their work has led to my examining the spaces between words in a way that couldn't be done otherwise. At least their work bears discussion, if not acceptance.

My point is that the issue with language and sense is more complicated, less dichotomous than either you or the language poets admit. I know their Program is somewhat repellant, but your discussion would gather more strength were it to consider the subtleties of poetry that "pushes the envelope." There is work out there (Conjunctions highlights it) that has moved poetic expression forward. I'd just love someone to write about it sometime.

I realize I've spent this note talking about the issue of "language" and have ignored the other argument, that of prose disguised as poetry. I don't hold as strong opinions about that, however much I agree with the points raised in your essay. But, as I say, there are always more than two sides, and I spend a lot of time, in the classroom and among friends, trying to show people that you do nothing justice by thinking in either-or terms.

That said, I want to thank you for your articulate expression of strongly held and openly voiced opinions. Such public forums for argument are absolutely essential for keeping one's thoughts kinetic. We are, after all, mostly water.

Ray Orkwis

Brava. I enjoyed your essay on the L=A=Netc poets and agree that there's a lot of career-promoting theory going on in their artifacts, which are still productions and are also consumed (by readers with stronger stomachs than mine). Perhaps it's a symptom of my own sleepy view, but I can't imagine such poems providing any sustenance for the writers' life. I've often wondered at the irony: "traditional" poems usually owe their genesis to some appetite or necessity for the poem, some very private weighing of words, but the L=Aetc poems seem born only to be published and consumed. Their most natural environment may be the world of commerce.

I appreciate the sound of your protest against the reification and gollygee frequently aimed at this stuff.

R. T. Smith

Dear Ms. Houlihan, I read both of your essays in WebDelSol, and I think the poetry community has found its prophet (and perhaps also its unafraid sage).

Thank you so much for taking the time to analyze and define this thing that everyone else feels too uncomfortable (or too indiscriminate) to notice. Thanks especially forno doubt braving the repercussions of your two very well defined criticisms of current poetry. I show the essays to every engaging writer/friend of mine whom I think is ready to read them.

Sincerely, Cynthia Gaver

Essay 1: On the Prosing of Poetry

Bravo, Joan!
I wish I could have written that piece myself. Where have all the poets gone? I am regularly sickened as I try to read a well-known anthology or magazine, hoping that THIS TIME something grand and wonderful will appear. But it does not. I am tired of reading bad poetry or, as you put it, non-poetry. I keep wondering if my work will ever find a home amidst such foolishness. Let's keep up the good fight.

Sincere thanks,
Heath Davis Havlick

Joan, I have just read your article, "On the Prosing of Poetry," from The Boston Comment, on Web del Sol. The introductory paragraph is the best justification for the study of poetry I have ever read. I am recommending it, as well as the entire article, to the high school English teachers I know.

As for the argument you posit, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU.
A voice of reason is at last heard.

Gregory Jackson

Joan, I enjoyed your piece in Boston Comment very much. We must speak out about the disrepair that characterizes much of American poetry today. When even skilled poets like Donald Hall lapse into the malaise of unpoetic prose and call it poetry, the situation is indeed alarming.

Peter Kent

I want to thank you for "On The Prosing of Poetry." I just finished reading that and it just completely lays out a lot of points in an argument I've been having over poetry with some acquaintances. It really just spelled out a frustration I've been having with poetry in a wonderful manner. Also, I appreciate that it was more than just a rant. Anyone can complain, but it takes a person with something to say to suggest a remedy.
Thanks again. You've just secured yourself and Web Del Sol another devoted reader.

Dan Knestaut

Joan, I found this and almost died of shock. What a wonderful column. And here I was thinking I just couldn't appreciate things the way an educated person would. Let's hope prose disguised as poetry is just a developmental stage.

Regards, Carol V. Yocom

Dear Ms. Houlihan, Thank you! You provided hours of amusement as I read your wry, acerbic, and insightful commentary on the state of modern poetry.
Thank you.
(Maybe you can turn this into a poem a la "Sea of Faith.")

Most sincerely, Steven Riddle

Dear Joan:
I agree with your views completely. If the "The Best (?) Poems of 1999" is an indication of where prose writers--calling themselves poets-- are going, the literary world is is for the biggest talentshake the world will ever know…

Again, kudos to you. Mae Barrena

Congratulations on a clear and penetrating article. We who also "fight the good fight" certainly applaud your tilting at these windmills.

Joe Adams

Dear Ms. Houlihan:
For what it's worth, I'm very grateful for your article. It's particularly encouraging that anyone has taken on such people as Simic and Hall, whom I believe have had it coming for at least twenty years. (I spent time this weekend with someone who could produce ersatz Charles Simic poems on the spot. It was fascinating, and, like the old SCTV, so close and easy a parody that the humor was extremely uncomfortable. Think bad translations of minor European surrealists, and start talking, and you've pretty much got it.) Yet where I work most people I encounter are writers, and of course most of their favorite poets are either non-English language poets, or the English-language writers most subject to your criticism. It is also extremely encouraging that anyone would dare criticize the absolute ascendancy of Williams's influence. I'm very interested in the causes of the phenomenon you describe, and I've found what I think are many other causes, but Williams is really the one that begs elaboration. Dickey really got it. It's too bad that book is largely forgotten, and that he didn't usually hold himself to his own standards.

At any rate, I enjoyed the article and I know there are many others who have enjoyed it too. You may be happy to hear that the URL is circulating.

Thanks, Joshua Mehigan

Dear Joan,
Great essay, and I must agree with your assessment of American poetry. I too have read all the "Best American Poetry of. . " series and thought 1999 was one of the worst!

Yours in harmony Lynn Tait

Ms. Houlihan,
I couldn't agree with you more. Your article summed up many of the thoughts I've had over the past ten years concerning American poetry. It's a sad affair. I was glad to see that you named names, exposing what many of our so-called established American poets are really up to.

Sincerely, Tim Lane

Thank you for writing this thoughtful and straightforward article. I hope it will have some influence, but I fear that too many have invested too much in the current trend of prose-poetry to give it its due consideration. Perhaps your piece will be a touchstone for future critics seeking to understand how banality triumphed in the late 20th c.

Still, you have in a quiet way taken a "hammer to the block of plaster" (to twist a phrase from Nabokov)that is the orthodoxy of poetics today.

Kevin Steel Edmonton, Alberta

Ms Houlihan:
I read your article with great interest, and delight. I feel the same way about 'the prosing of poetry' though I'm unable to describe my feelings quite so well.

May I have your permission to link to this article from my 'John Keats' website? I think most of the visitors to my site would enjoy reading it, perhaps as much as I did.

Take care, Marilee Hanson

A superb essay. Your example at the end confirmed the "Marianne Moore test" for me. A pity the others really didn't, something that makes one wonder why they were among the "best."

Peter Beal

Enjoyed your article tremendously, and will forward the URL to my poetry reading group!

Polly Robertus

Dear Joan, Recently I tried to read some Donald Hall and felt very confused. Why was this stuff labeled poetry? Even as prose, it bored me.

You have thoughtfully articulated the concerns of many readers who encounter tedious prose chunks disguised as poetry. Well done!

Best, Larry Gaffney

Bravo! Here I thought I was the only Alice in Wonderland!

Thank you, Marybeth Hillard

Good show! I agree 100%. (I am a poet of sorts, with 40 published poems in various journals, and a retired English professor.) Again and again I look at a contemporary "poem" and ask myself, "Why am I expected to read this? What will it do for me?" I don't give a damn about the author's grandmother--unless and if he makes her interesting to me through the force of his language--which he very seldom does. My own gripe might be added to the litany: there's almost no such thing anymore as a distinctive style. Take an issue of almost any contemporary journal and juggle the names and titles in a random fashion, and it usually would make no difference whatever. Any poem could have been written by anybody. They're all in the flat, grey, declarative chopped prose that seems to reign everywhere. Who needs this?

Charles B. Wheeler

Thanks, Joan. Your article is good news for poetry, and it makes me feel more hopeful than I've felt in many a morning.

Kelly Cherry

Dear Ms Houlihan:
Right on! I have characterized this stuff--it's not really even writing, no more than what the (in)famous monkeys at the typewriters produce--as Social Workers' Notes, Weirdly Formatted. Now, Jane Hirshfield! She's a poet. Thanks for a good job.

Sincerely, Richard Carter

Super article on Best American Poetry. Congrats.

Best regards, Matt Nesvisky

Thank you for a gutsy, outspoken essay examining what poetry is today, in our country. (Or, conversely, is not.) I agree that even the best, or most published, American poets at times seem to produce works that do not aspire to the heights of what poetry can be. I have heard that, when asked, Henry Taylor said, "It's a poem if you say it is." While I am all for experimentation with form, I think this can also be a copout for the writer that does not want to work hard enough to write a real poem, who simply stops at some point in the rough draft process, and sends it off to the publisher.

And as for the publisher, is there a parallel here between the publication of works by bestselling authors, for example Steven King, and the publication of works by known poets? King has written some worthy novels and short stories, but often it appears his new works are printed solely on the basis of past sales. If a poet of Donald Hall's calibre can publish lackluster work, is is also due to his established popularity? In other words, is it the result of publishing houses placing importance on the bottom dollar, rather than on quality?

I looked at the poems you have online, which is risky, after your comments. To my pleasure, I found them to be wonderful, to be POEMS. I especially love the line about the old woman, in Martiarch, "High and flimsy as iris, nodding/in afternoon. . . ." To Celebrate the Empty Tomb, and Stark, North of Gainsboro are also striking.

Thanks again for a brave, pertinent article.

Debbie Spanich

Ms. Houlihan,
You've voiced my thoughts and far better than I could have! Keep up the concern...

best wishes Dwaine Rieves

Dear Ms. Houlihan,
I read your essay "On the Prosing of Poetry" and wondered if your essay wasn't fueled by the fact that it was Robert Bly who was the guest editor of The Best of American Poetry. Something about Bly that pushes one over the top. I have to say I was disheartened myself after reading this volume. Lately I have been turning to poetry in forms. Recently my organization sponsored a workshop by Agha Shahid Ali on how to write the ghazal, sapphic and canzone. I was glad to see however you still had regard for free form poetry. I too am struck with the work of Dorianne Laux.

Karren Alenier

Dear Joan,
I agree with your essay completely. We have entered a new era of flatter-than-ever language, despite the increased emphasis on form in most MFA curricula. There are many reasons for this, but one must surely be the sheer numbers of students coming out of the MFA workshop setting. I hate to say this, since I teach in a program myself half of each year. It would be interesting to read another essay (by you or someone else) on what William Stafford identified as the "MacPoem" many years ago, and on other sources of the "unpoetic poem."

Enid Shomer

Dear Joan
Just read your excellent & complete "emperor's clothes" critique in Web Del Sol. Don't want to add much to your thought, just agree with bobbing head & idiot grin because you dared. Bly seemed to think he'd "dared," too. Haven't read Moramarco's "rebuttal" yet (he should be in agreement, I'd think, judging by his enthusiastic championing of Steve Kowit's piece attacking "The Mystique of the Difficult Poem" in Moramarco's editorship of the latest Poetry International), but you should be told you've echoed many of my thoughts, frustrations. I've forwarded your piece to many friends, too....Again, thanks!

David Strumsky

I realize you must be getting a good quantity of mail regarding this essay, so I will keep it short. Thank you. This argument never dies on the various fora I frequent (including WDS's Writers Block) and I tire of making these arguments. Now I can just point to your article.

G. P. Eireson

Wonderful editorial. You have my full agreement, though I think we're wallowing in the minority. Thanks for the read.

Julie Carter

Just finished reading your web del sol attack on formless, voiceless, anecdotal poetry, & I agree wholeheartedly with your critique of Bly & his choices. The Laux poem is exceptional in that context, and she has written a couple of pretty good collections of poems. She, also, however, favors the autobiographical, anecdotal poem, as detailed in her collaboration with Kim Addonizio, whom you rightly castigate, on the Norton Poet's Companion. You might like to check out my review of it, "Workshopism," in Notre Dame Review 8 (Summer 1999), 147-50. Maybe if enough of us who value the traditional aspects of poetry keep sniping at the hegemony of boring free verse, and if enough talented poets write what you and I would agree are real poems, the poetry in future "bests" & the literary magazines will improve. You also might want to check out The Ledge, a poetry magazine I coedit, for which, as we say, "excellence is our only criterion" and into which we put no shredded prose, as Edmund Wilson called formless free verse. Thanks for your essay, & keep up the good work.

George Held

Joan. Thank you. Thank you so much for having eyes and ears. I really thought I was going quite mad, sitting here in Jersey, listening to trash being touted as poetry. Most contemporary books of poetry I pick up at Barnes & Noble evidence the same trend. I am a proponent of SLAM poetry (it is an arena where I have heard some of the finest) and of the craft of poetry. Complete with metaphors, similes, rhythm, and something that makes me remember what I came here to do....... not writing something in a notebook and then two minutes later, getting up and reading it (because they felt it, they really did - if I hear one more woman compare her vagina to a flower - - ) as a poem? you have done a good thing and I am 100% behind you. In Jersey, we have The Paterson Literary Review which is filled with narrative prose. I think there were only three actual poems in the entire hefty publication...... These groups are sealed against "real" poetry. Its very sad. The poetic community has turned into an incestuous self-congratulatory community of silent dead polite poetry readings. Clap-clap-clap. That was nice. I never want to hear that my poetry was "nice." I want the listener to be aware that something profound has just happened. Silence would be better than "nice."

The online publication that you are writing for is the best I have seen. They seem to have enough testosterone to tell the emperor he has no clothes.

best regards, Marjorie Tiner

Your article was both timely and fantastic. Hoorahs to you! Someone who has finally dared to say, "The Emperor is naked!!!"

Sincerely, Claiborne Schley Walsh

Joan, I read your "Boston Comment" on webdelsol. You're preaching to this choirboy. I read '99 last fall and my comment was, "Slim pickings." I felt that Bly was perhaps the series' worst editor.

If you develop this further, I'd make a distinction that sets prose fiction aside: a short story or novel, written in prose, need not be in "everyday language." And good fiction is a "vehicle of expression" often quite "worthy of...significant subject matter."

I liked particularly your comment on poetry being "remembered...in a physical way, in the body's deep response to sound, rhythm, and imagery." There's nothing "almost" about it. When it's good, it's close to dance.

You must know Stevens's term, "fictive music." Of the many discriptions of poetry, that one most frequently charms my imagination.

Good essay. Necessary.

Bob Clawson

This piece was outstanding. I am a literate person (no M.F.A., though) who loves good poetry and tries to write it. I have long sensed that the emperor is indeed unclothed when it comes to a lot of what gets printed in the most elite outlets and elsewhere. The publication of Po-mo junk without feeling, engaging intellect, or just appealing language ensures that poetry remains on the margins of thought and action in our greater culture and society while editors and critics keep themselves on the throne.

Thomas Eme

Dear Joan, Sincerest thanks for articulating something that has been niggling at me for some time. I write prose and my best work is embued with elements of poetry and in those magical instances, my work is brought to a higher standard. It is like the thread of gold in the huge pile of ore. This relationship is not reciprocal; prose never strengthens poetry. To believe otherwise, is a victory for those intent on "dumbing down" all art forms.

Truly, Siri Sobottka

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