The Literary Life

Here's a pretty dreary assessment on the current state of literature by Joseph Epstein in The New Criterion. Poetry doesn't fare very well at all, but neither does literary criticism, novels, independent booksellers, universities... blah, blah, blah.

For someone who seems to read a lot (or so he says), I really can't take Epstein's dismal take on literature very seriously. He's only read one of the many global writers he mentions and in regards to contemporary poetry, he admits to reading a "fair quantity of it", only to tell us that he means an "individual poem" here and there. If he knew what he was talking about, then his curmudgeonly essay would at least carry some weight.

I am surprised, though, that Epstein doesn't have anything to say about non-fiction, the current golden boy of literature. I guess it's a thriving genre, so no need to mention or criticize it. Anyone else thinks Epstein needs a healthy dose of Prozac?

From The New Criterion:

Poor poetry, it is the Darfur of twenty-first century literature. Everyone wants to do something about it, but nobody quite knows what is to be done. Money is poured into it (think Miss Ruth Lilly’s $100 million bequest to Poetry magazine), prizes and titles are awarded to poets roughly every thirty-five minutes (think Poet Laureate of the State of New Jersey), new poets are produced roughly at the rate of rabbits (don’t think, lest serious depression set in, of all those endless MFA programs turning out more and more people who will themselves go on to teach in MFA programs). I shouldn’t be surprised to learn that in the United States today there are more practicing poets than members of the National Rifle Association. Poetry societies, poetry foundations, something called poet houses, everything but poetry soup kitchens are currently up and running, and yet it is fairly clear that none of it seems to have made for better poems.

More here.

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