the modern element


Mr. Kirsch’s method as a critic differs sharply from the one prevalent among writers on poetry, many of whom feel the need to take a side in the argument between believers in the expressive, communicative, imitative power of poetry, and those who believe it is a medium whose meaning is internal, closed in its own horizon, constructed and conditioned solely by the inner tensions of any particular poem. (It’s odd that these views are seen as opposed.)

But Mr. Kirsch takes poets on in their own terms, reading them by their own lights even as he locates them in the poetic tradition — in particular their relation to the Romantics, a relationship he sees as key to understanding contemporary poetry. This is not merely to say Mr. Kirsch is gentle or ecumenical, but rather that he understands the difficulty of writing about poems, even the longest and most perfectly composed of which are fleet, fragmented, and elusive in a way particularly inhospitable to the kind of scrutiny that novels and essays bear up so well under. When Mr. Kirsch praises, he does not praise first and foremost in the service of any critical ideology.

more from The NY Sun here.