Archive for January, 2013

Black and Blue Poetry by Greg Hewett

Friday, January 11th, 2013

O’Hara’s brand of outrageous, gimlet-eyed poetry criticism became a cottage industry for one of the unsung heroes of contemporary poetry, Robert Peters. Peters is the author of the iconoclastic poetry collections Songs for a Son, Love Poems for Robert Mitchum, and Snapshots for a Serial Killer. He is also an eminent scholar of Victorian poetry. However, he may be best known (though, I think, not well-known enough) for his criticism of contemporary poetry from the 1970s and ‘80s. In an era immediately prior to the Internet and blogs, Peters was King Critic of the Poetry Scene.

When my first book was coming out in 1996, my then-editor Bill Truesdale suggested we get a blurb from Peters. Though I admired Peters’ work, I thought this was a bad idea. His Black and Blue Guide to Poetry Journals, and the even harsher (yet far more-often-than-not truth-telling) series on individual poets, The Great American Poetry Bake-Off, could, for all their humor and generosity, be scathing. Though I thought these books were enormously helpful to me as a young poet—and I still highly recommend them to my students—I didn’t think my fragile fledgling poet-ego would hold up if he hated my debut. In 1982 Peters states straight out, “My pleasure in any good poet transcends conflict: I don’t see poets as enemies. But, for better or for worse, the critic must play wolf-roles, especially when poems generate in him little else than a tedious conjugality.” He goes on to say of one of the leading poets of the day that he wishes he could make him “feel less lost, elegiac, submissive, self-pitying.” Another poet’s new book convinces Peters that, “a writer by becoming a celebrity can get work published and sold, and earn a rather large reputation.” Ouch. Of the late ‘80s he declares, “The ‘ego’ poem, or ‘I’ poem, is the genre favored by most poets….”

For whatever reason, I lucked out. Peters liked the galley proofs of my book, and even invited me when I was coming to L.A. to visit him at the house he has shared for decades with fellow-poet Paul Trachtenberg. I’d like to believe that I would admire his work and like him even if he hated my work.

What makes Peters’ criticism so incisive, and his poetry so utterly contemporary, is his thoroughgoing knowledge of the history of poetry. He knows what made the new truly new in every period. His stance is related to Eliot’s in “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” but he calls for a more radical departure from the tradition. Here’s the beginning of his 1974 poem “the word yes”:

slowly a great rain of piss
begins (god beats on
the galvanized lid of heaven
the stars piss, Danae yells
for a sponge, Castor and Pollux. . .)
the rain is orange, the skies
are hepatitis colored, word
balloons are full of
comicbook doomwisdom. yes.

Today, Ron Silliman has taken Peters’ Poetry-Critic Crown and removed it into the blogosphere. Although Silliman’s views are always interesting and insightful, he is less focused on poetry criticism than Peters was, not to mention kinder and gentler.

Hunting the Snark

Friday, January 4th, 2013

Hunting the Snark
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
First edition cover
Author(s) Robert Peters
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Poetry
Publisher Paragon House
Publication date 1989
Pages 396 pp
ISBN 1-55778-052-8

Hunting the Snark is a compendium of poetic terminology that mirrored American contemporary poetry of nineteen seventies and eighties written by Robert Peters. The book sorts through contemporary American poems, separating them into nearly a hundred categories. The book’s foreword is written by founder of the New York Quarterly, William M. Packard. He says, “Hunting the Snark is an extraordinarily well-informed, joyous encomium to poetry itself. It displays the variety and diversity of our contemporary American scene.”[1]
1 Classifications and Terminology
2 The Title
3 Passel of Poets
4 Sources
5 References

Classifications and Terminology

His classifications are concepts like: “Sylvia Plath Poems”, “Wise Child poems”, “Snapshot Poems”, “Academic Sleaze”, “Fruits-and-Flower-Poems”, “Ezra Pound poems”, “Jazz Poems”, “Self-Pity Poems”, “West Coast Poems”.
The Title

The title is a reference to Lewis Caroll’s poem Hunting of the Snark.
Passel of Poets

Peters anthologizes in Hunting the Snark a comprehensive amount of poets and their poems including widely noted poets such as Robert Hass, Billy Collins, Denise Levertov, Adrienne Rich, John Ashbery to obscure noted poets Wilma McDaniel, Paul Vangelisti, David Ray and Alfred Starr Hamilton.
Sources

On the Trico libraries news and notes web,[2] library associate Evelyn Khoo chose the Hunting of the Snark as “Curious, Useful, Edifying, Inspiring: The Reference Books of McCabe Library”. Khoo assesses the book as a book that replaces the standard poetry anthologies with the usual geographic or chronological format for most reference works, with classifications like “academic sleaze”, “poultry poems”, “bent genes poems”, and “Disney poems”.

Each category has a selection of classic and contemporary poets, which embody the spirit of each genre, tied together with Peters’ critical analysis.

Poet and noted biographer of Sylvia Plath, Edward Butcher, wrote an essay on Peters, stating that he “fairly categorized terminologically American poems and poets with his original poetic terminology”.[3]
References

^ “Review”. Powell’s Books. Retrieved 23 April 2010.
^ Reference Books of McCabe Library
^ Great American Poetry Bake-Off-4th series