The American Dissident: Literature, Democracy & Dissidence

Unusually Critical Poems

Francois VillonI often say to young writers & speakers, that their best masters are their faultfinding brothers & sisters at home, who will not spare them, but be sure to pick & cavil, & tell the odious truth. It is smooth mediocrity, weary elegance, surface finish of our voluminous stock-writers, or respectable artists, which easy times & a dull public call out, without any salient genius, with an indigence of all grand design, of all direct power. A hundred statesmen, historians, painters, & small poets, are thus made: but Burns, & Carlyle, & Bettine, and Michel Angelo, & Thoreau were pupils in a rougher school.

          —Ralph Waldo Emerson


The poems featured in the right-hand column are critical in nature and therefore quite rare. Some of them are not as critical as others. Some of them, the editor only discovered thanks to an interest in learning foreign languages (French, Spanish, Italian, and German). Not one of the poems was ever mentioned in any of the numerous college courses taken over the years.


Note that naming names (unless George Bush) is clearly taboo in the established-order poetry milieu, as is poetry of an uncomfortable critical nature.  Naming names is, of course, an excellent form of accountability, and the milieu (academics, etc.) seems to relish in its absence of accountability.  Almost never does the editor receive submissions that name names (poets tend to be herd followers, thus lacking in courage and ever self-censoring).  Lord Byron, Alexander Pope, Osip Mandelstam, and François Villon DARED name names. "Que vous dicte de mon appel, Garnier?"