Mulling a small-spirited remark of Clive James's, a riposte in the March issue of Poetry to an indignant soul who took issue with James using Frost as a stick to beat Olson. What else would you expect from James, and from Poetry.
What's making the tedious argument of insidious intent stick this time is that he clarifies that he allots praise and blame according to how much work he perceives a piece required of a writer.
Writers don't tap chess clocks or punch in with time cards, so good luck making that one stand up in court. But James isn't making a rational or even a literary critical argument. His point has much more to do with what I understand to be a less rational subject: parenting.
There can never be a consensus about how to help children develop, but there are moods that predominate at times and in places. The current thinking, which I more or less go along with, says that to avoid making a child into a little emperor, try not to say anything to give the impression that he or she is special. Loved unconditionally, yes, but not given preferential treatment. Instead, praise hard work, concentration, and going after a challenge. Whether or not it's what he intends, James mimics this: but he stops there, with a negative set of rules that, by the way, is a template for creating a good little worker as opposed to a fulfilled and thinking human being.
Just as important for parenting and teaching is understanding how to help children develop themselves. This comes as a complimentary set of attitudes and activities to encourage: imagining, taking risks within limits, and (most important) making mistakes and learning from them. Clive James and Poetry unwittingly reward the mistakes, to be sure, but as for learning from them, they hark back to the humiliation and cruelty days of the dunce cap.
I'm complaining about Poetry, and it looks as though when it comes out this fall I will revert to complaining about the Best American Poetry series, after years of trying to empathize along. Only so much arrogance anybody can take.
Jordan - #