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Reviews

Credo

"Less is more" has proved to be (more often than less) a dreadful aesthetic credo, inspiring and justifying boldly insipid architecture better suited to robots than to humans, monotonous music in which the intervals of silence are the most welcome parts, minimalist visual art that is an insult to the visible universe, and poems little different from workaday utterance one would be generous to call prose. But the clause "less would be more" makes a lot of sense: a great deal less poetry than we have would probably be a good thing. Never has more poetry been published; never has it mattered less.

There are profound sociological reasons for the superabundance. Dana Gioia focuses on one: the proliferation of "creative writing" courses, which require instructors who must in turn be validated by publication. "Like subsidized farming that grows food no one wants, a poetry industry has been created to serve the interests of the producers and not the consumers." That is not quite exact, since the consumers mostly are the producers —one of Gioia's points, in fact. Which is why contemporary poetry matters so little. "American poetry now belongs to a subculture," he writes, and not to the "mainstream of artistic and intellectual life."

There is a lesson here I do not think most poets will learn. The generally educated person who in another time kept up to some degree...

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