Poetry, history, beauty, and truth: Vendler vs. Dove smackdown

Have you all followed the Helen Vendler-Rita Dove smackdown lately in the New York Review of Books?  Long story short:  Helen Vendler reviewed Dove’s The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry and slammed it for being too inclusive, too multicultural, and too “peppy.”  Dove responded with a lengthy defense of her work, explaining her methods and goals.

What struck me about this melee is the nakedly racial ressentiment of Vendler’s critique.  (Vendler is a white Harvard professor of poetry, Dove is a black poet and scholar at the University of Virginia.)  Although Vendler doesn’t say so, she is a Wallace Stevens scholar, and she’s apparently outraged that Dove’s choices meant that Stevens must share space in this volume with unworthy “multicultural” poets like Gwendolyn Brooks, Amiri Baraka, and others of the Black Arts movement.  Here’s Vendler:

Dove feels obliged to defend the black poets with hyperbole. It is legitimate to recognize the pioneering role of Gwendolyn Brooks, just as it is moving to observe her self-questioning as she reacted to the new aggressiveness in black poetry. But doesn’t it weaken Dove’s case when she says that in her first book Brooks “confirmed that black women can express themselves in poems as richly innovative as the best male poets of any race”? As richly innovative as Shakespeare? Dante? Wordsworth? A just estimate is always more convincing than an exaggerated one. And the evolution of modern black poetry does not have to be hyped to be of permanent historical and aesthetic interest. Language quails when it overreaches.

What is this, a flashback to 1988 and the Western Front of the Culture Wars:  Battle of the Poetry Canon? Continue reading

“White Christmas” and A Christmas Story

Here’s yet another melancholy Christmas song that loses a lot when it’s wrested from its context in the film, White Christmas (1954). The first rendition of the song in that movie takes place as part of a Christmas celebration in France in 1944, as the gathered troops wonder when (or if) they’ll ever again take part in family holiday celebrations. Much like Judy Garland’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” from Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), it’s really a three-hanky operation (and right at the start of the movie!), not at all a happy, light, and cheery little number. Continue reading

Plagiarists: srsly, d00d?

Dr. Crazy caught a plagiarist this week.

Plagiarists have no idea how much they don’t know, and no clue about how much we know about our own subject as well as how much we know about what they don’t know.  The ones that always amuse me most are the students who think they’re being clever by using a book 80 or 100 years old.  Google books is now making that scheme pretty transparent, but it just kills me that 1) they think that academic interests and writing styles aren’t subject to change over time, and 2) that it’s not patently obvious when they plagiarize something written by a fusty academic writer from the 1920s or 1930s (or even earlier) and try to pass it off as work by an early twenty-first century college student.

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Plagiarists take warning!

Make my day!

Flavia at Ferule and Fescue wrote recently about snagging some plagiarists in an upper-level class for majors, and she writes about how sad it makes her although of course she’s standing up for fairness and academic integrity.  Go read the whole thing, but here’s a little end of term/exam week plea for students:

[T]his is what I’d like to tell my plagiarists, and what I wish they’d hear and believe:

“You did something unethical, and you knew it was unethical; ‘giving you a break’ would be unfair to your classmates and it would be unfair to you; it’s my job to enforce academic standards and to see that you wrestle honestly with tough intellectual tasks. You’re selling yourself short when you think that you can’t come up with good ideas or write a good paper on your own. You will fail this class and the academic dishonesty charge will go on your record. Continue reading