Friday, March 9, 2012

Matthew Zapruder "On Criticism"

This excerpt comes from Matthew Zapruder’s essay "Show Your Work!" and can be found here. He is speaking primarily about contemporary American poetry, but the same can be applied to contemporary Canadian poetry. A terrific essay. He states:

"Readers, sophisticated and beginner, need critics to explain why and how poets are using language for these different purposes, and what those purposes might be. Our attachment to familiar language is powerful, and understandable. Without critics, we will hold on to the familiar and be unable to accept that there are other uses for language, that there is new and exciting poetry all around us.

Critics can do one of at least two things. The first is simply to insist that something is good, or bad, and rely on the force of personality or reputation to convince people. The second is to write, with focus and clarity, about how the piece of art works, what choices the artist has made, and how that might affect a reader. Only then can the reader grow to meet work that is unfamiliar, that he or she does not yet have the capacity to love.

Today, in American poetry, very few critics take it upon themselves to examine the choices poets make in poems, and what effect those choices might have upon a reader. As a consequence, very few people love contemporary American poetry. Many more might, if critics attempted to truly engage with the materials of poetry—words and how they work—and to connect poetry with an audience based on an engagement with these materials."

- Matthew Zapruder, "Show Your Work!"


  1. "very few people love contemporary American poetry"

    says Zapruder, which is nonsense: he means that very few love the kind of poetry he writes and advocates, and no wonder considering how obscurantist and autocratic it is—

    but out in the real world more than a very few readers love the accessible verse of Billy Collins and Jane Hirshfield and Mary Oliver and other poets who direct their work to a general public rather

    than to the incestuous academic coteries Zapruder et al write for . . .

  2. Bill Knot is an academic coterie. Just saying.