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The Modern Element: Essays on Contemporary Poetry Hardcover – January 17, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

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.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (January 17, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393062716
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393062717
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,096,169 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Private Citizen on October 10, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Kirsch's essays are crisp and clear, and he has a kind of fearlessness
which allows him to be very direct-- often usefully so-- in summing up the essential poetic
character of this poet or that. There are real insights here, and the length of the essays
often eight pages-makes them really easy to digest.
At the same time, though intelligent and insightful at times,
he suffers from premature certainty-- which, like premature ejaculation,
isn't really fair to his partner. Criticism requires generalizations and opinions,
but Kirsch will sum up and dismiss a carreer in a few words, which don't really
grant much amplitude to encompassing a whole, often valuable body of work. When he
discusses CD Wright, for instance, he divides poetry into "rude" and "reader-friendly" poetry,
and though I don't much like Wright's drift into scrambled fragmented forms, either,
she's a more interesting poet than these silly categories can accomodate. That
is an example of a young poet/critic's error-- too much swagger.
Hopefully Kirsch will continue to grow, to enlarge his categories, and to be
a little more nuanced in his assessments.
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