Another line about irony that recently irked me: John Gallaher quoted this bit of a review by Cole Swenson on Monica Youn: "Though the book’s overall pose is highly ironic . . . , the ultimate irony of the book is that these poems are ultimately not ironic at all, and so risk a sincerity that our time has very little time for." I'm sorry, what? I don't know the context, but doesn't this violate the basic rule of logic that for any given property A, a thing cannot be both A and not A? How can the poems be both highly ironic and not ironic at all?
Thursday, January 27, 2011
A little precision, please, Baby
So, this happened in December, but I just saw it today: In The Week, poet Timothy Donnelly recommends six of his favorite recent collections. Of Raptus by Joanna Klink, he writes, "Part of what makes Klink’s poems so remarkable is their refusal to rely on the ironic tones and gestures that are stock-in-trade among her contemporaries." Again, this fallacy that irony is a filter, a trick, a tone, a gimmick, a layer on top of the default, toneless baseline of sincerity. But no, sincere and ironic are both tones, both choices poets make. Saying that sincere poems "refuse to rely on ironic gestures" makes as much sense as saying that ironic poems "refuse to rely on sincere gestures." It's like saying that Shakespeare's sonnets refuse to adhere to the 5-7-5 syllabics of traditional haiku. Or that "The Waste Land" refuses to mention pandas. (There aren't any pandas in "The Waste Land," are there?)