I don’t pretend to know much about poetry criticism… at least not to the degree that I pretend to know all sorts of things about prose criticism. But I do like reading it, even if a lot of what’s being proposed probably sails right over my head. Which is why I like reading Stephen Burt—aside from the fact that he generally has something insightful to say about whatever he’s looking at, his analysis is always approachable, and that combination of intelligence and making sense makes me, in turn, feel smarter about poetry.
And if he’s your thing, or sounds like he might be, there’s a great interview with him in the September Bookslut. Rebecca Ariel Porte picks his brain, in the nicest sense of the phrase, and he accommodatingly lets loose with a wonderful tumult of sources and citations. A reader with autodidactic bent could spend a very happy few months methodically working his way through every one of Burt’s references, from his own recently published collection Belmont to Yeats, James Tiptree Jr., and any number of covers of Train From Kansas City:
All good poems double as criticism in some sense, since all good poems (as Empson says) must “show you the way in which they are trying to be good.” That said, only some good poems go out of their way to tell you explicitly, or discursively, or paradoxically, how to read poetry, in a more general sense. Some of those poems — some important to me — are Ashbery’s “Paradoxes and Oxymorons,” Auden’s “Letter to Lord Byron,” Marianne Moore’s “Poetry,” Jarrell’s “Children Selecting Books in a Library” (“CHANGE, dear to all things not to themselves endeared”), Alexander Pope’s “Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot” (to which Jarrell’s poem alludes), Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” Rae Armantrout’s “Our Nature,” quite a lot of Lucie Brock-Broido’s The Master Letters.
Or if not, enjoy his musings on pronouns and proper nouns, persona poems, Kermit the Frog… you get the idea.
(For a more in-depth look at Belmont, check out Kirsten Kaschock’s review at Open Letters Monthly.)