Monday, January 16, 2012

The Upsides of the Vendler/Dove Debate

Aside from the hard and hurt feelings that emerged as a result of the Rita Dove and Helen Vendler debate about Dove's poetry anthology, there might be a few upsides. Maybe.  What follows are 5 potential upsides of the exchanges and coverage. 

1. Poetry is worth arguing about - Arguments about poetry and among poets rarely rise to the levels of popular literature discussions. When a poet wins a major award, people take notice...briefly. But for the most part, there's little extended public discussion and debate about how poets' decisions matter. The Dove/Vendler exchange and the attention it garnered suggested that issues in poetry can and do attract broader notice.  

2. Editorial decisions matter - Editors and folks who study book history have always had a sense that their decisions matter. However, the publicity related to Dove and Vendler have given more attention to the consequences and significance of the decisions that an editor makes when producing an anthology.

3. The Trouble with Permissions - In reviews of Dove's anthology, Vendler and others lamented the absence of works by Allen Ginsberg and Sylvia Plath. Dove noted in her introduction and in interviews that the high cost of reprinting rights prevented her from publishing works by those two poets and Sterling Brown. Bringing more attention to the high cost of reprinting rights could be positive, especially if it encourages publishers to lower their costs.

4. Explaining the literary establishment - Vendler gets many points wrong in her critique, but she does rightly question Dove's vague and perhaps outdated use of the phrase "literary establishment." In a subsequent interview with Jericho Brown though, Dove says a little more about the literary establishment, even acknowledging that she has received "all the perks commonly associated with the establishment." The issue of the literary establishment and the recognition that it now includes African American poets (and editors) is worth considering, especially for those interested in understanding the production of poetry works.     

5. The value of blogs & twitter for black poetry news - Large numbers of readers were made aware of the Dvoe/Vendler debate via twitter. In addition, a number of bloggers wrote about the anthology and debate. The attention of the debate and anthology helped make more people mindful of the importance of blogs and twitter for raising awareness about news and relevant issues in contemporary poetry involving African American poets.

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