farming that grows food no one wants, arnpoetry industry has been created to serernthe interests of the producers and not thernconsumers.” That is not quite exact,rnsince the consumers mostly are the producersrn—one of Gioia’s points, in fact.rnWhich is why contemporary poetry mattersrnso httle. “American poetry now belongsrnto a subculture,” he writes, andrnnot to the “mainstream of artistic and intellectualrnlife.”rnThere is a lesson here I do not thinkrnmost poets will learn. The generallyrneducated person who in another timernkept up to some degree with the poetryrnof his day, because not to do so yas notrnto be generally educated, no longer feelsrnso compelled—in spite of the complimentrnthe poet pays him of speaking justrnas he does. Perhaps I should say “becausernof” rather than “in spite of”; if poetryrnis not a “rite,” as W.H. Auden said,rn”deliberately and ostentatiously differentrnfrom talk,” then why bother with it?rnWould you attend the ballet to seerndancers merely walk about the stage?rnBut probably most “poets” could notrnbenefit from the lesson if they learnedrnit. We have far too much “poetry” becausernwe have far too many unworthyrnclaimants to the poet’s mantle.rnThe last essay of Gioia’s book, “ThernPoet in an Age of Prose,” since it is a discussionrnof the “New Formalism,” mightrnbe considered an answer to the first andrntitle essay, “Can Poetry Matter?” Thernnew formalists consciously seek a generalrnaudience who “innocent of theory . . .rnhad somehow failed to appreciate thatrnrhyme and meter, genre and narrativernwere elitist modes of discourse designedrnto subjugate their individuality.” But inrnanother essay, “Notes on the New Formalism,”rnGioia makes some observationsrnthat temper one’s optimism. Much ofrnthe new formalism is “pseudo-formal.”rnThe poem looks formal by virtue of its visualrnarrangement on the page, but thern”architectural design has no structuralrnfunction” as the “words jump betweenrnincompatible rhythmic systems from linernto line.” The reader’s experience isrn”rather like hearing a conserxatorytrainedrnpianist rapturously play the notesrnof a Chopin waltz in 2/4 time.”rnBut who is this Gioia? By what authorityrndoes he judge? He is the authorrnof Daily Horoscope (1986) and The Godsrnof Winter (1991), whose poems are whatrnpoems have traditionally been but seldomrnare now: “the fine / disturbance ofrnordered things when suddenly / thernrhythms of your expectation break / andrnin a moment’s pause another world / revealsrnitself behind the ordinary.” And inrnthe instance at hand he is the author ofrnthe most lucid examination of poetryrnI have read since Babette Deutsch’srnPoetry In Our Time (1954)—which inrnmy scale of values is like favorably comparingrna book of historical reflectionsrnwith those of John Lukacs or of philosophicalrnspeculations with those of HannahrnArendt.rnIn a review I must sight some ofrnGioia’s other general concerns; “thernLIBERAL ARTSrnGAYS AND GLUTTONS UNITErnNew York Assemblyman Dan Feldman is attackmg “the last area of safe bigotry” withrnhis bill to bar discrimination based on size, the Chicago Tribune reported last May.rnWhile the proposed measure would protect the tall, the short, and the underweightrnas well, it has drawn most of its support from overweight people, who complain thatrnthey are often discriminated against in employment, education, and housing. SallyrnSmith, executive director of an organization called the National Association to AdvancernFat Acceptance (NAAFA), for example, denounces the “blame the ictim” myth thatrnchastises obese people for their apparent unwillingness or inability to conform to thernphysical norm. Feldman, who is not overweight, became interested in obese rights afterrnreading reports of the bias encountered by people like Ms. Smith. A supporter ofrngay rights, he maintains that if he opposes discrimination in that area he should opposernit in other areas as well.rndilemma of the long poem,” regionalrnpoetry, poetry’s silence on business evenrnwhen the poet is a businessman. ButrnGioia’s concerns are not merely generalrnand theoretical. There is excellent practicalrncriticism of old masters like WallacernStevens, T.S. Eliot, Robinson Jeffers, andrnlesser voices, and his essays on WeldonrnKees, Robert Bly, Howard Moss, andrnDonald Justice are the most perceptivernon those poets you will find anywhere.rnMercifully, neither Maya Angelou norrnRita Dove (inaugural embarrassmentrnand new laureate, respectively) are discussed,rnbut 17 other poets receive Gioia’srnundivided attention. A few might wishrnthat were not the case.rnWhile Gioia can be exceptionally generousrn—John Ashbery “is a marvelousrnminor poet, but an uncomfortable majorrnone” (yes, that’s generous)—he can alsornbe wicked; “Ideas in Ashbery are like thernmelodies in some jazz improvisationrnwhere the musicians have left out thernoriginal tune to avoid paying royalties.”rnCommenting on one of Bly’s brutalizationsrnof Mallarme, Gioia judges, “Notrnonly does it not seem like the verse of anrnaccomplished poet, it doesn’t evenrnsound like the language of a nativernspeaker.” Bly’s translations are importantrnbecause they “underscore his centralrnfailings as a poet. He is simplistic,rnmonotonous, insensitive to sound.”rn”One can always tell when Bly is excited.rnHe adds an exclamation point.” Therernare lofty emotions here, but Bly lacksrnthe skih to make his reader feel them, sorn”the reader remains outside the emotionalrnaction of the poem, a little embarrassedrnby it all, like a person sharing arntrain compartment with a couple whisperingrnromantically in baby talk.”rnI single out Bly for two related reasons.rnFirst, I delight to see an extremelyrninfluential poseur receive the critique hernso justly deserves. (On reconsideration,rnI’m sorry Angelou was left out.) Second,rnI want to suggest that Gioia practicesrnwhat he preaches. One of his majorrncomplaints about the poetry subculture,rnone of the reasons it is so hard to take seriously,rnis that its members practice toornmuch backscratching instead of honestrnreviewing, while they ought to regain potentialrnreaders’ trust with candid criticism;rn”Professional courtesy has no placernin literary journalism.”rnSamuel Hux is a professor of Englishrnat York College of the City University ofrnNew York.rn40/CHRONICLESrnrnrn