Guilty Knowledge, Guilty Pleasure
William Logan has been a thorn in the side of American poetry for more than three decades. Though he has been called the "most hated man in American poetry," his witty and articulate reviews have reminded us how muscular good reviewing can be. These new essays and reviews take poetry at its word, often finding in its hardest cases the greatest reasons for hope. Logan begins with a devastating polemic against the wish to have critics announce their aesthetics every time they begin a review. "The Unbearable Rightness of Criticism" is a plea to read those critics who got it wrong when they reviewed Lyrical Ballads or Leaves of Grass or The Waste Land. Sometimes, he argues, such critics saw exactly what these books were they saw the poems plain yet often did not see that they were poems. In such wrongheaded criticism, readers can recover the ground broken by such groundbreaking books.
Logan looks again at the poetry of Wallace Stevens, Frank O'Hara, and Philip Larkin; at the letters of T. S. Eliot, Elizabeth Bishop, and Robert Lowell; and at new books by Louise Glück and Seamus Heaney. Always eager to overturn settled judgments, Logan argues that World War II poets were in the end better than the much-lauded poets of World War I. He revisits the secretly revised edition of Robert Frost's notebooks, showing that the terrible errors ruining the first edition still exist. The most remarkable essay is "Elizabeth Bishop at Summer Camp," which prints for the first time her early adolescent verse along with the intimate letters written to the first girl she loved.