The skill of these essays, most written for the New Republic, is breathtaking. Kirsch puts his finger on exactly what is wrong with some of the most difficult (or confused or obscure) contemporary poetry with absolute lucidity, but in a respectful, almost gentlemanly way that stings far more than any snarky tirade. He is the velvet hammer of poetry critics, nailing Jorie Graham’s obfuscations (Her poems are obscure . . . because they reside in the privacy of the poet’s mind and not in the public realm where poet and reader discuss things in common); John Ashbery’s self-indulgence (To read this kind of thing can be intermittently stimulating; to read it at great length . . . is mildly masochistic), and Sharon Olds’ narcissism with just the right note of modest, almost parental disapproval. He leaves outrage to the reader. Kirsch is equally penetrating about poets he admires, particularly technicians like Derek Wolcott, Richard Wilbur, and James Merrill, making you desperate to read them, or reread them, which may be the greatest service of all. --Kevin Nance
About the Author
Adam Kirsch is the author of two collections of poems and several books of poetry criticism. A senior editor at the New Republic and a columnist for Tablet, he also writes for The New Yorker and the New York Review of Books. He lives in New York City with his wife and son.