Sunday, January 09, 2005


There is a question in the interview that each poet responds to on the Here Comes Everybody website that reads “What is something which your peers/colleagues may assume you’ve read but haven’t? Why haven’t you?” My own answer to that was:


It’s impossible for me to know what my peers may assume that I’ve read. I haven’t read Henry James or Thomas Wolfe. Why? Because I haven’t gotten around to it yet.


Yet I might have answered, just as well, Guy Davenport. I must have tried ten or twelve times, but I never got into any of his books in any significant fashion. After recognizing that I had several volumes in which I had read 25 pages or less, I sold them among the 13 cartons of books we took to Shakespeare & Company and Moe’s as I was leaving Berkeley. Unlike some of the other books I sold, I haven’t felt any need since to go & rebuy them.


It’s not simply that Davenport represented a side of the New American aesthetic I could not get into – like Paul Metcalf, say. But rather he always struck me not only as precious in his writing, particular as it was, but also as the last living example of a kind of critic whose work I deeply distrusted – someone attracted to Pound not for the poetics, but for the politics. Davenport’s extensive appearances in William Buckley’s National Review & Hilton Kramer’s New Criterion only underscored my discomfort. This doesn’t mean that Davenport wasn’t every bit the genius that his advocates make him out to be, only that in a world in which there will never be time enough to read all of the good & valuable works, there will never be time enough for me to stop & figure out why his aesthetic always struck me as so profoundly off.


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