William Logan: "The Dirty Harry of the Poetry Beat"

William Loga, Our Savage ArtIt has almost become of a rite of Spring for publishers to trot out their books of poetry in April for National Poetry Month. Admittedly, we do the same (though we do talk about poetry in other months).

We begin with William Logan and his newest collection of criticism, Our Savage Art: Poetry and the Civil Tongue. Logan, who is also a poet, is known for being one of the most stringent and insightful critics of poetry. His criticism has won numerous awards and he is published in such venues as the New York Times Book Review, the Wall Street Journal, Poetry, and Parnassus.

However, Logan is also known as “the pit bull of mainstream poetry reviewers” (Maureen McLane, Chicago Tribune) and “the Dirty Harry of the poetry beat” (David Barber, New York Times Book Review). In other words, Logan does not hold back and his biting critiques of poets has become legendary. But, Logan also has the uncanny ability to locate what is special in a poet’s work. So, to cite another Clint Eastwood character, here is Logan on the good, the bad, and the ugly of recent poetry:

“I should have reviewed Billy Collins’s Nine Horses months ago, but I couldn’t stand the excitement. Collins is that rarity, a poet with popular appeal, easy to read as a billboard, genial as a Sunday golfer, and not so awful you want to cut your throat after reading him.”

“The virtues of [Philip] Larkin’s ordinariness have never been more necessary—every age needs to be reminded that the ordinary sometimes requires a kind of heroism.”

“Books like Gary Snyder’s should come free in a box of granola.”

“John Ashbery was born when Pola Negri was still box office, yet his poems are more in touch with the American demotic—the tongue most of us speak and few of us write—than any near-octogenarian has a right to be.”

“Jorie Graham loves big ideas the way small boys like big trucks.”

We will be posting more of Logan’s views on poets during the month.

Leave a Reply