Monday, April 1, 2013

Most contemporary literary stuff is awful...

In response to Cleveland Heights writer Dan Chaon's suggestion that new writers should read more contemporary literature-- the literary magazines, best-of-the-year anthologies -- J. Robert Lennon of Salon replies, no: "most of it is really bad."

"most contemporary literary fiction is terrible: mannered, conservative and obvious. Most of the stories in the annual best-of anthologies are mediocre, as are the stories that populate most magazines."

Wow, I love it when essays pander to my personal prejudices!  Thanks, JR.

He does suggest that it may be good advice for poets:
"Chaon’s argument is perhaps stronger when applied to the world of poetry, which is smaller than that of fiction, and more dependent upon a robust dialogue with itself. The world of poetry is also less risk-averse than that of fiction; poets are more naturally experimental, less embarrassed about strong and unpleasant emotion. Poets aren’t bothered by the same career anxieties fiction writers are — they don’t presume there is any money to be made doing what they do. And poetry is less concerned — not unconcerned, certainly, but less concerned — than fiction with the common idioms of storytelling. Poets are constantly reinventing language. A poet ignores new writing at his or her peril."

 Nah. "Hackneyed, insular, boring" --no, not all of it, but far too much.

Agree?  Disagree?  Let's hear it.

(Of course, maybe it's just Sturgeon's law ("90% of everything is crap.").  It's just that, when we talk about poetry from a century ago, the really awful stuff has mostly been forgotten.)

[with a shout-out to Charles Oberndorf for pointing me to this essay.]

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The poet doesn't invent. He listens. ~Jean Cocteau