Are we witnessing the death of American poetry? Many critics have charged as much, pointing to a poetry that is increasingly marginal, specialized and cloistered. Challenging such doomsayers, Jonathan Holden offers a hopeful appraisal of the current state of American poetry, and he suggests several avenues American poets might take to attract the kind of reader who, on a plane trip from New York City to Los Angeles, would probably sooner read a novel than a book of poems. Examining the reasons behind the loss of readership and diminished status of poetry in America, Holden blames the advent of modernism and the institutionalization of the modernist tradition in university English departments. This tradition, he says, "is still preserved by specialist custodians in the service of a narrow subject matter and a correspondingly narrow decorum". Although in many ways the American university's overwhelming support of poetry has left the art more vigorous than ever, it has also encouraged the mass production of mediocre verse. Holden contends that the best postwar American poets have shed the elitist vestiges of modernism and have enlarged both the capabilities of poetry and its appeal to a general audience by incorporating subject matter formerly confined to other genres. In discussing contemporary poems by William Stafford, Sharon Olds, Scott Cairns, C.K. Williams, Sydney Lea and Philip Levine, among others, Holden illustrates how American poetry, by including a more diverse subject matter, can assert some just claim to a wider audience - a literate audience of non-specalists.
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Jonathan Holden is Distinguished University Professor of English and Poet-in-Residence at Kansas State University. In 2005 he was appointed as the first Poet Laureate of Kansas. Holden's many books include the memoir "Mama's Boys: A Double Life," the poetry collection "Knowing: New and Selected Poems," and the critical study "The Old Formalism: Character in Contemporary American Poetry."From Library Journal:
When "schools" of poets wage war, as they always do, inter se , critics can be counted on to join the fray. However, when the critic is also a fine poet, the critical analysis takes on a special significance. Readers of Holden's splendid new book will be rewarded by his summary of the latest battle: neo-formalists versus post-(post?)-modernists versus creative writing programs versus whatever. The decline of modernism is also examined. Holden rightly chastises those who decry the institutionalization of poetry; details the current state of lyric, narrative, and political poetry; and gives sensitive, intelligent readings of works by new and established poets. An important book by a solid poet and critic. Highly recommended.
- Vincent D. Balitas, Allentown Coll., Center Valley, Pa.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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