Beyond the Blurb: On Critics and Criticism. Published by Cow Eye Press

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Robert Nagle

Good mention of Steve Stern btw. Reading your blog is getting expensive for me!


I've never heard of him either. I'm go to go out and look for his books today. And who is this "Harold Bloom" character anyway? Should I have heard of him? [just joking: we've all heard of Bloom, what does that say?] In my defense I should say I'm not an English professor, though I know many who have read less contemporary lit than I.

Are there novelists who haven't heard of Robert Creeley, or who have only a vague idea of who he is? I've heard stories to that effect. Although I read poetry voraciously, I am still coming across new names every day of poets I've never heard of. Outside of one's "field" the usual strategy is to follow only the most famous writers.

Kirby Gann

I totally agree -- I was an English major in college, and distinctly remember the revelation that came with discovering literary works had been published since John Updike's "A&P" story.... In our studies it seemed like Literature stopped sometime in the early sixties, and everything after was dross. It was a seller of used books that turned me on contemporary writing after I graduated; used booksellers are a great resource.

Though that article was my introduction to Steve Stern, too.

Mr. Waggish

I have my problems with Bloom but I have to give him credit for being far better read than the vast majority of acclaimed humanities professors. Ignoring the content of "The Western Canon" and just looking at the lists in the back reveal all sorts of obscure books, even things like Disch's "On Wings of Song" and others (I don't have the book on-hand).

Morris Dickstein in his heyday was also well-attuned to contemporary lit.

Jimmy Beck

As usual, it's hard to disagree, Dan. I would only add blogger and comp lit prof Jenny Davidson to the list of English profs who do read their contemporaries and clearly get it.

David Milofsky


I think you're painting with a pretty broad brush here, though perhaps as an English professor myself, I'm biased. Most of my friends are writers and I doubt many of them have heard of Steve Stern, much less read his books. Though I edited literary magazines for most of the last fifteen years, I'm constantly amazed (and humbled) by the sheer number of first-class writers with whom I'm unfamiliar. But keeping up for its own sake strikes me as being mostly a waste of time, an attempt to be au courant. Most of what I read for fun was written more than one hundred years ago but not because as a professor I'm obliged to read it. And by the same token, many of my scholarly colleagues seem more up to date on the current scene than I am.


This new found attention for Steve Stern is amusingly predictable and as a number of people have pointed out above , this happens all the time and will no doubt continue.

I discovered Stern serendipitously—waiting for an appointment I opened a book package and actually started to read this book by someone unknown to me and I was extraordinarily pleased by what I read. Need I point out what a good thing this is?

I suppose on any given day I could be moved to rail against the infernal injustice and unfairness of the Universe or feel blessed and be bouyed by the prospect that there was more to come...but that's about me or the caprice of subjectivity, isn't it?

robin d. gill

I agree when you write that "critics and scholars interested in understanding the literary impulse, the nature of literature and the possibilities of literary form, ought to be attending to contemporary writers;" but let me ask: How do you expect them to find these contemporary writers?

What you will find is what the major publishers publish or what is trendy for one reason or another. Taking one of my recent bks for example, the only reviews outside of haiku-related magazines (because my bk has the most haiku translated on any single subject, that is to be expected)in its first year out = i repeat YEAR = after publication was in an interspecies magazine edited by someone whose bk i helped get into japanese years before and one guy down-under (Danny Yee could teach the reviewers up-over something about openness). Recently, 18 months after publication, i finally got a review in a magazine on literary translation, but my book is for a general audience and the word has still not reached the mass media . . .

Sure you have blogs, like this (and all i just found via lbc.typepad in an article my mom clipped for me), but i wonder how many of the books that will still be read in 50 or 100 years you manage to find. Are you really doing that much better than the mass media? (at least you have a place for comments like this, but how many comments are read and by how many people?)

To my mind, there is only one way that the nyt or nyr or any other major review will begin to pick up the major bks and that is to have e-mail and read that e-mail = the good bks are not being reviewed for the same reason the information pointing toward 9/11 did not find its way to the authorities.

"Rise, Ye Sea Slugs!"

Dan Green

I expect scholars and critics to find contemporary writers by doing what scholars and critics are supposed to do: Pay attention, if necessary use those library/research skills scholars are supposed to have and keep track of book reviews, literary magazines, and websites. I don't want to seem immodest, but I'm trained as a scholar of contemporary literature and I learned how to seek out relevant writers and books by identifying the appropriate publications and monitoring them. I still do this. It's possible to do it. One thing they should definitely do is ignore the "major publishers" and the "mass media." This should seem like common sense to serious scholars and critics.

robin d. gill

I am delighted to read someone is paying attention, but wonder if it is enough.

I worked for 20 years as an acquisitions editor and thought i was pretty good at finding things, too, but, now that i am on the other side, wonder if i could have found myself. Great books by author-publishers may not show up in the book reviews you track for most reviews rule-out self-published books regardless of their merits, and the literary magazines . . . Let me put it this way, unless you read Modern Haiku or Metamorphoses or the online Simply Haiku or LYNX, you would miss my books, entirely.

As an author who never has enough time to write, much less do pr, I believe there is no substitute for intelligent screening by mass media. If one has a good book, it should be enough to send out, say 5 pr copies, to get the word out. Today, people who should not have to do so are wasting their time touring the nation doing "readings" rather than staying home writing
The duty of reviews and critics is to squash bad books and propogate good ones to save everyone time and improve literature. I say they are failing in that duty.

"Rise, Ye Sea Slugs!"

ps 1 I wish blogs could do what mass media does, but my experience with haiku-related bbs's (mostly in japanese) is that the word does not get far. One would hope that news could be passed around to all who would want to know, but it generally stops at a dozen or so bbs's..
ps 2 Tired of waiting for news of my books to perculate down, i have just bought a headset and will hit the air.

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