Sunday, October 9, 2011

Who else ?


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In line with his discussion of Edgar Guest under way in his current column in Slate, Robert Pinsky asked the question about who  we think among  currently popular poets might suffer a similar diminishment in estimation  , say, forty years from now. It would be a long list, but some things have to gotten to first off, pronto.

There remains a respectful silence on the matter of quality, but I think in a few years readers of poetry will gain enough spine and admit that the poems of the late and truly tragic Mattie Stepaneck were spectacularly wretched. I well understand a dying young man's desire to remain optimistic and strong and courageous and to show all this is some painfully earnest poems of faith, sunshine, flowers, spiriituality and such, but Stepaneck's fatal malaise made him immune to criticism.

The media, with its instincts for human interest stories that can be exploited indefinitely, turned the boy into a poster child for All Our Lost Innocence, and made it possible for the woefully amateurish and sub-literate cracker barrelisms of his poems to be published and become best sellers.
 There was stony silence as to how dreadful the work was; no one said a thing. You bit your tongue and didn't argue the idea that Stepaneck's popularity would fade soon after he passed away. No one wanted to be accused of saying mean things about the poems of a young boy dying from a fatal condition.

 Still, someone with no dog in the fight , with no emotional ties to the increasingly distant recollection of Stepaneck and the context of his verse, will come across his collected poems and become numb with incomprehension as to why anyone, anyone at all thought that such a specimen of slithering sentimentalism qualified as something worth publishing.  The future critics of poetry will regard poetry fans of this day, as we regard poetry readers of Edgar Guest, as rubes for making the relentlessly mundane a highlight of our aesthetic experience.

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