Sunday, March 29, 2015

Clive James on books in overabundance

On both sides of the Atlantic, and in Australia, the creative writing schools churned forth slim volumes by the thousand, all of them supposedly full of poetry but few of them with even a single real poem in them.
-- Clive James, from his book of essays Poetry Notebook: Reflections on the Intensity of Language, as quoted in a review of the book by Jason Guriel.

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In the same review, Guriel characterizes James' "true objection of devotion" -- what the authors calls "the choppily well-separated thing" -- in a manner we thought worth quoting:
He means a poem with internal integrity, its every word pertinent and poised—a product that has come to be a curio in our age of overproduction.
Hear, hear! We find this trio very agreeable: poise, pertinence, and production in proportion to need. Ah, but saying so, we are mindful of the need also for waste, slackness, confusion, and indecorum, the mineral nutrients that nourish art-making. Whether one inclines toward order or chaos, work or play, poetry may come out of it; one just has to be wary of celebrating one's preferred methods to the point of denigrating the methods others work with. Which isn't to say self-celebration isn't allowed! Just that it is best expressed alongside equanimity and openness, lest preferences evolve into prejudices. (A principle especially applicable to the work of appreciation and celebration that is the stock-in-trade of the editor, the critic, and the reviewer.)

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Jason Guriel is the author of The Pigheaded Soul: Essays and Reviews on Poetry and Culture (2013).

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