Or Now That Poetry Is Dead, I Think I'll Just Sit Here and Drink
A new battle of the books is in progress. This time, the lines are not being drawn between modern and ancient but between the present and the recent past, and the antagonists are not Homer against Milton or Aristotle vs. Bacon, but such younger poets as Dana Gioia and Fred Turner against an academic poetry establishment that has rejected form and narrative in favor of private communication in a flat, unbeautiful language that runs the gamut from insipid to unintelligible. Too simply put, the battle is over rhyme and reason.
The beginning of any war narrative should include an estimate of comparative strengths. At first glance, it looks bad for the rebels. The modern/postmodern establishment has virtually all the resources. It controls the granting agencies—public and private, the major literary prizes, creative writing programs, journals, and professorships. However, the "new formalists"—a dreadful term I shall use just this once—have a number of valuable assets. Since their work is generally accessible, it has the potential for attracting a large audience. What is more important at this stage of our cultural history, the rebellious posture has a peculiar charm for modernist intellectuals, who have a hard time realizing that they are themselves the "them," the Establishment, the powers that be.