Jarrell’s “age of criticism”—the literary climate of the Forties and early Fifties—is not our age. Quite the contrary. Today, criticism is out. Blogs and letters columns are in. When a negative review appears, wounded poets fire off blistering e-mails to the offending magazine (it might be this one)—no matter if the wronging critic was right! It’s possible to imagine, in more melancholy moments, that the once-vital culture of literary criticism has devolved from pointed, perspicacious, well-reasoned articles into huffy Letters to the Editor. Whatever the case, “the elucidation of works of art and the correction of taste” (Eliot’s famous phrase) is not an occupation that interests most contemporary poets; essays and reviews no longer figure as part of a poet’s project. If Jarrell envisioned a critical age, ours is an Age of Creative Writing, and creative writing is in many ways allergic to criticism (except occasionally as an agent of career advancement or generic boosterism). In part, this may be because so many poets’ livelihoods now depend on getting along. Poets are expected to play nice—in universities, on prize committees, in magazines, online. Critics, by contrast, are seen as the black-raincoat kids, skulking and scowling at the edges of the high-school dance.
- David Yezzi, in his essay "The Rest is Criticism" from the Contemporary Poetry Review website.