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This review is taken from PN Review 205, Volume 38 Number 5, May - June 2012.

Down the Cemetery Road WILLIAM LOGAN, Deception Island: Selected Early Poems, 1974-1999 (Salt) £10.99

William Logan, a quotation on the back of Deception Island tells us, is 'the most hated man in American poetry', a sobriquet which falls a bit short of, say, the glamour of 'deadliest striker in world football' or the menace of 'best fighter, pound for pound'. American poetry has its little cliques and rivalries, feuds and enmities, but the idea that someone is 'most hated' seems a little far-fetched. 'Most disliked' is probably closer to reality, but 'disliked' lacks the emotional heft and intellectual validation of 'hated'. Dislike is petty, hatred is serious: hence Logan is serious. He has presence - strikes fear - like a hanging judge. Logan's reputation derives from his writing as a critic, not as a poet. At his perch at The New Criterion, Logan has taken on the role, familiar across the ages, of Poetry Scold: poetry is bad, getting worse, there are too many poets, they don't know what they're doing, etc etc. Logan's omnibus reviews of contemporary poets are skilled exercises in contemptuous, offhand dismissal. He is a very good polemical writer. Logan also occasionally offers essays which reassess major American poets to their detriment; his devaluation of Hart Crane was a noteworthy recent example. Logan is to be commended for going after big game like Crane or Ashbery (a particular bête noire of the critic) instead of wasting his firepower against poets like Mary Oliver and other contemporary small fry. As a critic, Logan has two themes that he hits again ...


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