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Hit Parade [USA]:
[...] Yet even if the arguments are taken at face value, both Keillor (playing populist) and Kleinzahler (playing elitist) are hoping to hold back waters that can't be dammed. When Keillor writes that poetry "is entirely created by peasants" and that "the intensity of poetry . . . is not meant for the triumphant executive, but for people in a jam - you and me," he's assuming that poetry is a tool to be used, rather than a force capable of doing a little using of its own, not all of it wholesome. And he's assuming, along the same lines, that "you and me" are bound to like a certain kind of thing; that "we" won't turn out to be as strange and unknowable as all those "lit'ry" poems out there. Similarly, as a talented poet, Kleinzahler would like to believe that poetry is split between "real originality" and pointless mediocrity; in an art so divided, there's little doubt where a strong writer like Kleinzahler would end up. But great poets often produce mediocre work, bad poets can be surprisingly good, and very good poets are frequently no better than consistently above average - all of which is to say that it's far more difficult to isolate "great poetry" than Kleinzahler (and most critics) might like to believe. We're forced to live with a chaos of styles and a muddle of best guesses. This makes everyone uncomfortable; we're much happier when we can have well-worn arguments about populism and elitism, about Good Poems and High Brows. But what Elizabeth Bishop once said about knowledge may be equally said of poetry itself; that it is "dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free"; not a sure matter of sides, but a fleeting balance of currents. The best we can do - the best we have ever been able to do - when faced with the words "Good Poems" in a book's title, is to turn the page hoping to say yes they are, or yes they were, or yes (believe it or not) they will be.
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