Sunday, December 14, 2008
Anyone can make a mistake. Anyone, asked to write a book review, can fail to reach Johnsonian heights of deathless prose. But perhaps it takes an Oxford don writing in the Sunday Times to reach the level of cretinism displayed by John Carey, writing about Dennis O’Driscoll’s volume of interviews with Seamus Heaney:
The America he came to know in the 1980s, as a Professor in California and in Harvard, seemed to him to be living in a ‘centrally heated daydream’, epitomized by the poetry of John Ashbery, which appealed to a middle-class readership, insulated from the cold blast of world poverty, and ‘on the move between its shopping malls and its missile silos.’
Good old Ashbery, smoking jacket and all, with his versified senior common-room tales and ever-dependable way with a triolet. Has John Carey ever read Ashbery? How bothered should we be if he hasn’t? Criticism on this level renders praise and dispraise equally meaningless. If this is poetry reviewing today, abolish it now, someone, please.