Sunday, June 29, 2008

Not Again, Billy

William Logan scrapes bottom once again in his review of Frank O'Hara's Selected Poems, which makes the cover of this morning's New York Times Book Review.* Logan begins:

"Death is often a good a career move in poetry. No sooner are the obsequies over and the baked meats eaten than the publisher warms up the presses for a definitive edition of the collected poems, solemnly proofread down to the last querulous comma. Yet not all poets are well served by such an exhaustive volume, which may seal up a reputation forever––indeed, such a book has often been called a tombstone. A collected poems may be cruelest to a poet whose genius shone as intermittently as a firefly."**

Logan, of course, did not write this as a "grabber opening" for a tenth grade composition exercise. The lightning bug Logan is swatting at is O'Hara himself, a fact Logan makes clear in the next paragraph: "As a poet, [O'Hara] wrote so much––so wildly and unevenly much––it has been a bit difficult to reach a just estimate of his wayward, influential talent."

The review then proceeds through two full pages of backhanded swipes at its subject (assuming that Logan plays tennis, one would do well to always serve directly at his inflated head--his only stroke is a backhand).

For example:

"The poets of the New York School...were long on spontaneity and short on literary effect."

"[O'Hara] was always looking for some vivid stimulus, preferably one a little outlandish––not a bad thing for a curator of modern painting, perhaps, but not necessarily a good one for a poet (O'Hara treated contemporary art with far more deliberation than he treated poetry). He began to make poetry from whatever happened around him––today he might have written a blog."

"O'Hara's physical world is curiously impoverished."

"What O'Hara objected to most about poetry was the hard work."

"O'Hara wanted his poems to look easy as a sewing machine but to take no work at all."

"...but O'Hara almost never faces up to the emptiness beneath this high life and low desire––if there is a subconscious revealed, it's very hard to detect."

"O'Hara refused to apologize for his narcissism, his comic pretensions, his sometimes insufferable archness. These were the efffects he mastered and the price paid."

"O'Hara's wonderful poems are all too easily drowned out by the vivifying mediocrity of the rest. At times the banalities pile up and overwhelm the poems––but then, they were the poems. "

"...[O'Hara's] very notion of the aesthetic courted failure as a method...When O'Hara was lucky, he was very lucky, because his method could not help but fail most of the time."

O'Hara's manner in his longer poems became " irritating when sustained."

His poems are "blissfully trivial."

And finally, O'Hara's "virtues" were his poems' "false bravado, their frantic posturing and guilelessness and petty snobberies."

With the exception of "guilelessness," these last are qualities that William Logan knows much about.

To paraphrase Dorothy Parker: Constant Reader, this blogger frowed up.


*"Urban Poet" by William Logan, The New York Times Book Review, Sunday, June 29, 2008, a Review of Selected Poems By Frank O'Hara. Edited by Mark Ford. 265 pp. Alfred A. Knopf, $30.

**The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara, edited by Donald Allen with an introduction by John Ashbery, (University of California Press, 1995) is still widely available for $27.50, not including an Amazon discount which brings the price down to $18.50. The existence of this volume (which won the National Book Award for Poetry) is not even mentioned by Logan. Allen's Selected Poems of Frank O'Hara (Vintage, 1974) is a bit more difficult to find.


Blogger Collin said...

Yep, that review is backhanded from the first line to the last. Logan is one bitter old man.

7:26 PM  
Blogger Joseph Hutchison said...

Logan continues to be one of the nastiest, shallowest reviewers around. He wears his cleverness like a cheap cologne (remember English Leather?), and the odor—part anger, part envy, part groundless vanity—is overwhelming. His atrocious poetry gives off the same reek, laced with a dash of sour malaise. His writing in either genre makes me want to take a mental shower, which I'm going to do right now....

10:55 AM  
Blogger Jilly said...

What I wonder why that sort of review is so prominently published.

12:05 PM  
Blogger Joseph Hutchison said...

Ditto, Jilly. Of course, the NYTBR tends to lionize fiction and trivialize poetry. At least it seems so to me.

12:22 PM  
Blogger greg rappleye said...


If I'd written "Sullen, Weedy Lakes," I'd be bitter, too.


Thank you for your wonderful comments--here and elsewhere-- on Logan. You've made my day.

J& J:

Poetry does get short-shrift from the NYT. Giving William Logan the cover of the Sunday Book Review once every six months is not a commitment to serious literary criticism. What little attention the NYT does pay to poetry (other than Logan's occasional monotribes*) is quite often given to the work of junior editors in the New York publishing houses.


*monotribe: A diatribe so singular and off-the-wall that audience response and feedback of any sort are utterly irrelevant to the speaker, and whatever their content, only serve to "prove" the speaker's original point.

5:12 AM  
Blogger poet CAConrad said...

Thanks so much for this.

Logan is not alone of course in his feelings about O'Hara.

The good news is that O'Hara IS hated by the likes of creeps like Logan, meaning O'Hara IS a genius, meaning O'Hara IS someone to respect and Love. Whoever Logan hates MAKES ME WANT TO READ!

Logan is a tedium all unto himself,
PhillySound: new poems

12:16 PM  

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