10 Ways of Looking at the Reaction to Mark Edmundson’s “Poetry Slam” in Harper’s Magazine

and other poetsphere kerfuffles

Grave of Bai Juyi by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

WWBJD?: What Would Bai Juyi Do?

  1. Denunciations elicit more responses than nuanced criticism. While at first this seems unfortunate, it reflects a very good thing: that poets are emotionally invested in poetry.
  2. When such denunciations repeat familiar complaints, rebuttals are easier (and faster) to write.
  3. Precisely because neither the complaints nor the responses are anything new, poets’ replies allow them reaffirm their memberships in various poetry communities.
  4. Meta responses like mine allow their authors to reaffirm their positions as outsiders in what (I hope) is a kind of hip way.
  5. Acknowledging the identity that this kind of response reaffirms my having positions me as an exceptionally honest and perceptive critic (I hope).
  6. [Let’s just pretend I’ve gone down all the infinite steps in the rabbit hole that last point opens up.]
  7. The more replies poets write to the original article, or to the replies to it, the more necessary it becomes to respond if one wishes to appear au courant.
  8. This becomes a process of canon formation if it goes on too long.
  9. Authors of later responses can depict themselves as especially reflective.
  10. But the fear of being the last one to speak eventually causes the discussion to die down.
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