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Saturday, July 18, 2020

My review of Marjorie Perloff's reviews Circling the Canon appears on Stride (reflections and a link)

From the point of view of the writer there are two kinds of critic (of course, there are more, but I’m drawing a simple explanatory binary): there are critics who seem to furnish poetics, who seem to push the art forward, and there are those who, for all their scholarship, do not. Jonathan Culler is, I think, one of the latter: however much I take from his remarkable The Theory of Lyric, it will not feed into my creative writing. Marjorie Perloff, an equally scholarly critic it is worth stating (that’s not part of the binary), is one of the former. At least as far as I’m concerned (and I reckon others, too, particularly US language writers). Her Poetics of Indeterminacy arrived at just the right time to spur me on as a writer (and at the right time to feed into my critical PhD). Her Radical Artifice performed a similar task when I was fully engaged with the poetry that became Twentieth Century Blues. Her Unoriginal Genius taught me how was I was, and how I wasn’t (or, rather, how much I was and how much I wasn’t) a conceptual writer (and that fed into chapters of The Meaning of Form). Pages from her On and Off the Page were the only critical prose I used with writing students in the early years (to get them to get free verse and then to get them ‘beyond free verse’!)

In person, too, it comes back to me, she could be immediate and critical (in a good way). ‘Lose that line about Arafat!’ she commented on an early version of The Lores that I read in New Hampshire. I lost that line about Arafat! If her Frank O’Hara is a ‘poet among painters’, then she is a critic among poets.

It was a pleasure, therefore, to consider her work again, to review her reviews! (This experience suggested I should steadily re-read those books and read the essays, abundantly archived, poetry people, on her website HERE.)

The reviews are published as Circling the Canon: The Selected Book Reviews of Marjorie Perloff, 1995-2017, Volumes I and II, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2019.

I think I say everything I need to say about those two volumes in the review itself. You may read it here on Stride. And then you may check out the rest of her work.