Ange Mlinko’s review of the just-released Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology evinces a deep and true concern (dare I say love?) for poetry — a rare quality and something to be admired and treasured in a reviewer. But as gifted and astute as Ms. Mlinko is, I believe she missed some important opportunities for contextualization. Suggesting that beauty is gone from poetry because of flarf, Conceptual, or the march of history, is like saying that gay marriage will ruin traditional marriage. There’s plenty of “beauty” in poetry, still, and there will always be. Why can’t poetry, like poets, contain multitudes? It must. And what is “beauty” in poetry? Does it reside only with lovely content or word choices? I’m sure people lamented, thousands of years ago, at the advent of writing, the moment when poetry became less of a mnemonic device and more of its own dynamic. I wonder if, back then, a lament went up for “the end of memory.” Probably. So, poetry has already been “ruined,” as Rimbaud noted in a famous letter to a boyhood friend back in the 19th century. But that poetry has always never changed is part of that “ruined” beauty. And can’t there be beauty in the profane? Comedy has a Muse, after all. What finally surprises (shocks, really) is that Ms. Mlinko can’t see work that she herself doesn’t completely embrace as part of the long and continuing conversation that is poetry. Haven’t poets always sought to “correct” in some way what went before? To paraphrase the poet Nada Gordon: “ . . . nothing static or fixed or preconceived, and probably something rather fearsome and sometimes grotesque.”
That’s the kind of poetry that can still contain multitudes.