I gotta say I'm baffled by the drubbing poet Elizabeth Alexander is taking on the interwebs. We've talked some about George Packer's swipe, which bugs me the more I think about it. Here's Newsmax picking up the ball. And then here's Kevin Drum, inexplicably, reaching for the dagger and rather cattily requesting that Alexander keep "her poem short."
I have a lot of respect for Drum. I think Packer is one of the exceptional journalists of our time. And you guys know me--and it's possible I'm taking this too far. I know I'm taking this personally because, truthfully, I learned the basics of writing--and blogging--by reading poets like Alexander, Stephen Dunn, Julianna Baggot, Nas etc. I didn't love it all, but I learned a lot. Poetry is, to me, the most elemental, the most muscular genres of literature. That doesn't mean everyone has to love it. But out of all the surely boring, and mind-numbing performances and speeches that we'll hear on Inauguration Day, I'm sort of amazed that this is attracting any attention,
When you read people comparing a decorated writer to a potential senator with zero experience, when you read a post called "Affirmative Action poetry for the Affirmative Action president," you can start drawing some pretty dark conclusions. But let me allow that Alexander's critics aren't going there, and offer another explanation. Poetry is, for whatever reason, something really smart people don't always take the time to understand. And because they're really smart--and used to understanding things that other people don't--they think that this must mean there's something wrong with poetry. But in fact most of these critics don't really know what they're talking about. I'm not saying I'm much better--but then I don't go around condemning entire centuries of whole genres.
The one good thing about all of this is that it's proved to me that "Wyntonism" isn't just confined to people talking about hip-hop. It is, evidently, applied when people want to dis something, but not do the work to formulate an actual, coherent dis. It's wild. Drum tries to highlight the horror of Alexander's poetry by pulling a snippet out of context. But instead he just highlights the laziness of his own post.
I don't get why people can't just say, "You know what. I don't know much about poetry, so maybe I should pass on commenting on this..." I mean what if I just decided to dis opera or classical or jazz for the hell of it? What if I started opining on the vagaries of health care reform? You guys would shout me down. And rightfully so. Cats need to know when to fold em...