Academic journal article Chicago Review


Academic journal article Chicago Review


Article excerpt

Andrew Duncan replies to Peter Riley's letter in CR 53:1 and John Wilkinsons response to that letter in CR 53:2/3.

Dear Chicago Review,

I have deep skepticism about the integrity of the debate between Peter Riley and John Wilkinson in your pages.

When I got started in the poetry world in 1973, I was perturbed by the messages people gave out and was afflicted by curiosity and anxiety. I collected material, and as time went on, even a dossier. So today I can open the dossier and reveal that the messages are barely relevant to poetry. Moments when someone takes on another poet responsibly, instead of via caricature, are rare. In fact, even the reviewing process, at least in this country, is threadbare and largely useless because of the refusal to engage.

Riley's work is hardly a mystery, nor are the writers or the principles he admires. His description of the Cambridge poetry of the '60s and '70s, or maybe 1966-74, is well founded, but he is unhappy about what has happened in the last thirty years. He sees an article by Wilkinson as a threat to his position because it offers a view of the world in which his poetry is unnecessary. This is a sincere reaction but also a paranoid one. It verges into control-freakery once he fails to control it.

I see nothing in Wilkinson's letter that even starts to be a faithful portrayal of this. What is the point of writing a rejoinder if you aren't interested by the argument? What exactly is the paragraph about the French Catholic Church in the 1930s there for? Is Riley a Catholic? Was he there in the 1930s, wearing a beret, carrying a candle, clutching a breviary, subscribing to Action Française? Certainly not. He was born in England in 1942. What about the paragraph about African-American poets? Is that there for a reason or because he had just seen their gigs immediately before he wrote the letter? …

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