For starters, this letter:
To the Editor,
While I was glad to see praising reviews of poets Rae Armantrout and Anne Carson in recent issues, I was somewhat disturbed by their contents. Dan Chiasson says that Armantrout is the “best poet of the [Language] group” because she “takes the basic premises of Language writing somewhere they were never intended to go.” This ideological attack on experimental writing is repeated in Meghan O’Rourke’s review of Carson’s “Nox,” when O’Rourke says that Carson’s “singular gift” is complicated by “a postmodern habit of pastiche and fragmentation,” which O’Rourke calls “so much formal detritus.” Not all critics have to be behind Language poetry or formal experimentation, but to praise a Language poet and a formal experimenter for all they do that isn’t subsumed by those categories is a shockingly brazen party-line statement of what is and is not acceptable in poetry.
It’s no surprise that a reviewer unsympathetic to Language poetry would only find praiseworthy the least Language-like elements in Armantrout’s work, nor is it surprising that a reviewer unsympathetic to formal experimentation would only care for Carson as a traditional lyric poet. What is surprising, and troubling, is that the New Yorker would print what amount to polemics against Language poetry and experimental writing in the form of reviews that pick out their outliers for praise. And in drawing the line where they do, excluding most Language poetry and experimental writing, the New Yorker obviously also excludes (for example) explicitly political poetry or poetry by people of color, which receive even less critical attention.
This is obviously not as important as the New Yorker failing to cover, say, Gaza* (nothing in the print edition since a shocking Lawrence Wright article in November 2009–which might be worse than not covering it at all–and very little before then); and that in turn is obviously less important than the actual situation in Gaza. But the very rare and selective eye towards poetry reflects the same deep ideological biases as the Gaza coverage. Similarly, the New Yorker‘s poetry predilections are mere instances of the broader biases of Official Verse Culture, which themselves only reflect more pernicious forces of reaction and white supremacy. Perhaps I am overstating, but for me at least, the New Yorker has a profound role as an arbiter and definer of culture and politics. Presenting the ideological as neutral, even as it is of course ideology’s oldest trick, must be resisted!