I don’t know if young author Chelsea Cain is ready to write for the NY Times Book Review yet. “He peppers his colorful tale with words like ‘rigmarole’ and ‘mawkish'”, she tells us in reviewing Jeffrey Ford’s The Girl in the Glass. Golly gee! This type of uncharacteristic lameness pervades several pieces in today’s Book Review, which seems to have been produced by a backup crew while the regular editors gather for one last week in the Hamptons.
I’m not sure what to think of David Orr’s poetry column, in which he parodies bad internet writing and praises the letters of poet James Wright. David Orr tries to be funny, and maybe he needs to hire a joke writer. Here’s his opening line: “Poets who write only poetry are like musicians who play only cowbell; oddly cool, but mostly just odd”. Well, not really. There are two well-known songs in the history of music where you can hear a cowbell, “Honky Tonk Woman” by the Rolling Stones and “Mississippi Queen” by Mountain, and I think being a dedicated poet ranks just a little higher in importance. Let’s move on, though, to Orr’s ridiculous statement that the genre of epistolatory literature cannot survive in the age of email and instant messaging. Not that old chestnut again. Orr shows us what Keats’ explanation of ‘negative capability’ would look like today:
“JKEATS1: Iz tryn 2 dev more neg cap”
In fact, Orr must know that it is possible to speak in complete sentences on the internet (we even sometimes do it here on LitKicks). Also, that’s not even real text slang. The Times must have a joke writer around that Orr can use for future columns.
On the positive side, bravo to Camille Paglia for diving deep into Michael Schmidt’s ambitious new survey, The First Poets: Lives of the Ancient Greek Poets. I also enjoyed Francine Prose’s intelligent letter to the editor, and Susannah Meadows’s review makes Lydia Millet’s Oh Pure and Radiant Heart — apparently a fictional spin on the later lives of the original atomic bomb scientists responsible for Hiroshima and Nagasaki — sound compelling enough that I am going to check it out.