Critical Language

I finished my book review, at considerable psychic cost. It will appear in the next issue of The Wallace Stevens Journal. My problem with this sort of criticism is that it seeks to dominate the texts it studies. Though more subtle, I don't see much functional difference between Blasing's treatment of lyric poetry & the attacks on Keats that were published in the fashionable magazines in the early nineteenth century. Both are intended to throw a noose of critical wisdom around the neck of poetry. "Be nice," it says, "and we won't slap the horse's ass."

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.

4 thoughts on “Critical Language”


    A turd in a gold toilet bowl
    still needs flushing
    one hundred times zero
    still one zero

    only love can possibly get
    love’s main idea
    change doesn’t follow
    the plan for the future

    for which no relics exist
    only the clear evidence
    consciousness ingests

    of consciousness itself
    impartial and excited
    pregnant with the page.

  2. In my limited purview of literary criticism, Stephen Booth’s approach to “Precious Nonsense” is the only model I came across which seemed a) to celebrate, rather than dominate, the power of poetry and b) to be congruent with craft analysis, that is – to actually tell you something about how to write. It remains the only solid model of analysis I know that doesn’t murder for sake of dissection.

  3. Robert, I’m an empiricist at heart & I’ve never had much truck with Wordsworth’s “we murder to dissect” accusation against analysis. When I was a little boy I dissected frogs & starfish & mice. I had scalpels & forceps & probes — all very 19th century naturalist! Which is to say: I love critical acumen; what I detest is critical disdain.

  4. I suppose another way to put it is that so much literary criticism aspires to represent its own kind of poetry about a poem. But as a wise person once said, “it is easier to think what poetry should be, than to write it.” Easier still to wax rhapsodic or congratulate oneself (with “clotted diction”) on one’s unified field theory of poetics. What’s tough is to talk about what makes a poem work while sticking to 1) the poem and 2) the reader’s experience. Tough – but it keeps the poem living.

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