The Death of Hilton Kramer is a Huge Loss to the American Art of Poetry - Blog

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The Death of Hilton Kramer is a Huge Loss to the American Art of Poetry

The obituary of Hilton Kramer, the Art Critic, in today's New York Times reminded me of an article he wrote in the New Criterion in February 1993 under the title "Poetry & the silencing of art." That article is accessible on the web at the following site: It should be read by everyone interested in rejuvenating poetry as a high art in America. Among other things, it summarizes views expressed by Dana Gioia on the state of American poetry, agrees with those views to the extent that they note the demise of poetry as art in America, comments on some of Gioia's other views set forth in his book "Can Poetry Matter?", and concludes with the following observation: "In Mr. Gioia's discussion of these problems, something very important has been left out - the subject of popular culture. For as the silencing of high art proceeds at a rapid pace in our society, what is taking its place on a scale never seen before is the noise of the most noxious and degraded varieties of pop culture. High culture cannot compete with its lethal effects on the minds and bodies of the young - and not only the young, of course - and neither can serious education, not as it is now conducted, anyway. And as long as the juggernaut of pop culture continues to swamp everything in its path, not only will poetry remain confined "to the private world that is the poet's mind" but so will all of high art - whatever remains of it - be confined to the private world of its subculture. And what was lost? No one can judge will be a line applicable to many things we now cherish. Can Poetry Matter? is an important book, but it does not yet have an answer to the question posed in its title."

This blog has noted the demise of poetry as a high art in America. And, in the universities where it is still largely cloistered, poetry has become pop culture. Why? Because before one can teach poetry students what makes a poem a work of art, one must understand what makes poetry an art in the first place. Pop culture views poems as objects that must say something meaningful (judging poetry by prose standards) or express deep emotions, but neither are what makes poems high art. What makes a poem high art is its language, its musicality, its versification, the tensions and suspensions of the poetic line and stanza and the poem as a whole, and - first and foremost - its lyricism. The meaning of the poem is always secondary and even unimportant in poems which nevertheless are works of art.

Before poetry can be restored to a high art as it once was but has not been for 50-60 years or so, persons who consider themselves poets, poetry teachers, poetry critics, or simply wish to appreciate contemporary poems, must have a comprehensive understanding of what makes poetry art, of what poetry can and cannot do, and of how it (as art) is written. An organized and structured theory of poetry exists and has been incorporated in a book written in terms that easily can be grasped by an intelligent mind that is not influenced by the pop culture that has destroyed poetry as a high art, but do you think so-called "scholarly" University Presses will accept that book for publication? The answer is no and the reasons are simple: (1) they are not concerned with poetry as a high art but as a popular art, and (2) they resent the fact that their futile efforts to write or publish poems that will survive the date of their publication do not command the respect that was given to true poetry until the mid-20th Century. Further postings on this blog will illuminate the theory of poetry of Jose Garcia Villa, the only organized and structured theory of poetry in existence, and now that book has been published (by a University Press, no less) as of September 1, 2015 and is available for purchase on this website and elsewhere.

Vocation: Wall Street Trial Lawyer (Retired)
Avocation: Poetry and Poetics
Studied poetry with Jose Garcia Villa 1970-1997
Writer and Publisher of Poetry


  • Guest
    yinzhijia Tuesday, 01 October 2013

    It's an amazing blog that, I must say, it reviews and teaches us how a true poetry is made, a poetry is made only through the artifice of itself, not the anything added to. These months I've come here again and again because I like all the essays in this blog that guides me, a reader in China to get a better understanding of the American poetry which i could hardly get elsewhere. I'm greatly indebted to the builder of this valuable blog and the master Villa, from whom the blog idea claims to trace back. I do hope the book mentioned here will soonest come to be published and when that day comes I hope the blog builder Mr Robert King will notice us, so we can try to purchase one.

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