In Defense of Impeachments, the Decline of the College President, and the Problem with the Prose Poem
First up, a bit of media news: Vox Media buysNew YorkMagazine.
Michael Dirda revisits E.V. Odle’s The Clockwork Man. Is it a serious work of science fiction or slapstick?
The MacArthur “Genius” Grant winners have been announced.
The modern university has destroyed old-school college presidencies, and that’s not a good thing, argue Naomi Schaefer Riley and James Piereson: “The president of a major college and university today is unlikely to be the bookish professor steeped in the ideals of the academy, but the modern manager skilled in raising funds, placating advocacy groups on campus and off, and tending to his or her own career. It is hard to imagine that these leaders would have the time, let alone the inclination, to set forth any kind of grand academic vision for their school. And given their short tenures and the professional risks they face, why should today’s college presidents bother to stand up against any assault on the university from any of its various constituencies? We don’t need to throw a pity party for the folks who decide to lead colleges and universities today. But if you want to know why it seems like the job, even with such high salaries, is not attracting better candidates, or any kind of long-term commitment, these changes are a good place to start.” The key word here is “unlikely,” because there are presidents who do set a “grand academic vision.”
Elizabeth Lowry reviews Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House: “It’s no coincidence that Maeve has ‘a stack of Henry James novels on her bedside table’ – among them The Turn of the Screw. An obsessive younger woman who comes to a big house and falls for the aloof owner? Check. Lost mother? Check. Terrorised children? Check. Stalwart and sceptical housekeeper? Check. ‘Lots of ghosts’ (as Danny puts it)? Check that, too. If The Dutch House is like a novel by James, however, then it’s most like The Spoils of Poynton, cleverly appropriating that book’s use of a coveted house and its treasures as an index to human character.”
Gary J. Schmitt argues over at The American Interest that “because the Constitution seems to have created a relatively open door when it comes impeachment, a plausible assumption is that impeachment, qua impeachment, was never meant to be such an exceptional oversight mechanism. Just as it is plausible to argue that removal would be rare.”
Essay of the Day:
Jason Guriel, one of the best poetry critics working today, writes about that nebulous thing called the prose poem:
“Poetry, said W. H. Auden, is ‘memorable speech.’ It’s a reasonable definition: broad enough to include a lot of flora and fauna, but strict enough to put up fencing. You should be able to say a poem, and your head should want to hold on to it. Rhyme and meter can help with this. So, too, can a vivid image. ‘The stars are not wanted now; put out every one. / Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun.’ That’s Auden, and just try to forget it.
“There are always outliers, of course—’concrete poems,’ where clusters of words are shunted into shapes and pictures, or ‘sound poems,’ where a poet uses their voice to honk out patterns of noise. But most civilians know a poem when they see one. A poem strikes us as inevitable: it can be no other way, employ no other words. This is an illusion, of course, but the poem pulls it off because it’s already pressed itself upon our memories. Auden’s every move—the way the sound of ‘pack’ pays off ‘put’; the way the stock cosmic props are redeemed by the strangeness of ‘dismantle’—lays down ruts in the mind. We’re duly reassured we’re dealing with the real thing.
“It’s the insiders—the poets, the tenured—who like to ‘problematize’ poetry and wield their whatabouts. The ‘prose poem’ is one of the most abiding whatabouts. It remains an outlier, a problem. ‘A prose poem is a poem without line breaks,’ writes Jeremy Noel-Tod in the introduction to his recent anthology, The Penguin Book of the Prose Poem. Blame the French, who revel in unravelling categories. Aloysius Bertrand, in the nineteenth century, was the first to compose a block of text and call it poetry. Other beloved disturbers of shit, like Baudelaire and Rimbaud, later took up the idea. Prose poetry didn’t catch on in North America for another century or so. Even then, it remained controversial. When Mark Strand’s book of prose poems The Monument was up for a Pulitzer, in 1979, one of the judges, Louis Simpson, dissented. The Monument, felt Simpson, just wasn’t poetry. (‘If a prize intended for playing the violin were awarded to a trumpet player,’ he reportedly said, ‘everyone would see immediately how absurd and unacceptable this was.’)
“Noel-Tod, a lecturer at the University of East Anglia, declares that prose poetry is ‘the defining poetic invention of modernity’ and marvels that the form is ‘suddenly everywhere.’ He’s probably right about its popularity. A book of the stuff, by Eve Joseph, just scooped up Canada’s $65,000 Griffin Poetry Prize. Other twenty-first-century attempts have drawn acclaim: Claudia Rankine’s book-length meditation on race, Citizen: An American Lyric, and Patricia Lockwood’s viral ‘Rape Joke.’ Plenty of legacy brands have dabbled in the form, too: Elizabeth Bishop, say, and Seamus Heaney. Noel-Tod’s anthology covers a spectrum, including translations. Front-loaded with contemporary examples, the book runs backward, irising out toward the middle of the nineteenth century.
“But all this history and activity does nothing to make the form, for skeptics, convincing rather than contrived.”
Photo: Seiser Alm
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