139. (Matthew Arnold)

Showing, earlier this week, some poems I’d written to a critic I admire and trust, I received back some critical suggestions that struck at a peculiar blind-spot: the first-person singular, where it is needed and where not, how it shifts the weight of a poem, dragging a great deal in with it, and excluding a great deal also. To write, for instance, “I would say” … Continue reading 139. (Matthew Arnold)

118. (Geoffrey Hill)

Geoffrey Hill died last week, on June 30, at age 84. Nobody doubts that he wrote some of the greatest English poetry of the twentieth century; but the critical consensus on Hill’s poetry falls out of harmony when confronted with the collections that coincided with its close. William Logan, one of Hill’s stauncher American admirers, is disparaging: “The caterwauling of “The Triumph of Love” (1998), … Continue reading 118. (Geoffrey Hill)

113. (Ezra Pound)

Pound, whose faith in poetry as a force to make something happen was constant and remains invigorating, began his career with poems that realize that possibility not through injunctions to act or imperatives to civilize, but through informing his reader’s “fundamental disposition towards the world.” Though he is opposed Pound ideologically, John Dewey’s phrase for appreciating how Pound’s achievement as an inventive craftsman might be … Continue reading 113. (Ezra Pound)

100. (T.S. Eliot)

All poetry orients itself, to knowledge, to others, to the world or something beyond it; Eliot’s poetry stoically queries and quietly agonizes over the possibility of orientation. To speak of orientation and Eliot in the same breath inevitably summons speculations about orientation of the sexes; and however hollow such speculations might be, they are a valid extension of the experience of reading Eliot, which leaves … Continue reading 100. (T.S. Eliot)

99. (William Empson)

Whatever else its relationship to genre, wit is a particular way of coping with the world’s fragility, its tendency to waste and isolation. Wit happens when the intelligence detaches itself from a situation in which that fragility is keenly felt and is able, by virtue of that detachment, not only to extract from it those dispersed and discordant elements that threaten to waste and isolate life, … Continue reading 99. (William Empson)