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This article is taken from PN Review 161, Volume 31 Number 3, January - February 2005.

Criticism Makes Nothing Happen David C. Ward

Anglo-American poetic relations are by now a major section of the poetry criticism curriculum and books on the 'special relationship' and poetry are published at regular intervals. By 'poetic relations' I don't mean actual critical comparative literature but poetry as an aspect of diplomatic relations, in which warming or cooling is noticed, goods are assessed, the balance of trade calibrated, and intelligence estimates fabricated to assess the disposition of forces and learn how much - or, more usually, how little - we know about our respective ally and rival. Since culture is now as international as trade itself (and even more so, given that it no longer is transported by ship or airplane), this literature has become routinised, especially since overtly nationalistic criticism (Vicars versus Redskins, as it were) has largely but not, as we shall see, completely died out. It tends - like international diplomatic conferences themselves - to consist of a summary tour d' horizon and the cheerfully critical conclusion that 'we have made progress, but more needs to be done'. Discussing Anglo-American poetic relations also is a displaced way of assessing the state of poetry itself, which is, of course, always precarious, especially when considered in the abstract. J.C. in the TLS (9 October 2004) recently ran a little squib on the unmarketability of 'little magazines' in England and quoted a bookseller as saying that 'No wonder understanding of American literary culture is on the wane in Britain.' To be blunt, even if this ...


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