The Corner

Laureate Wars

Having succeeded in getting Rick out beating the bushes for enemies of

academic Eng. Lit. amour propre and defenders of the proposition that a good

poem should be spontaneously liked by lots and lots of non-academic people,

I shall scuttle back to my jungle bivouac. (“The bivouac of life,” of

course.)

If it’s poets you’re wanting, though, see my upcoming piece on George Crabbe

in the NY Sun (tomorrow, I think).

In the meantime, let me canvass reader (and contributor, if you like)

opinion here. On my “36 Great American Poems” CD I included Joyce Kilmer’s

“Trees.” A reader just emailed in to

ask why. Thinking about it, I am not sure.

Yes, I can see why “Trees” is a slightly absurd poem, a

soft-center-chocolate sort of poem. Some of that, though, is due to the

fact that “Trees” is, as I remark on the CD, the most-parodied poem in the

American language. Most of us, I imagine, encounter a parody of “Trees” (in

my case it was Ogden Nash’s) before the thing itself, which distorts

judgment. So why do I like “Trees”? It’s not even what Orwell called a

“good bad poem,” because it’s not *quite* bad enough. I don’t know, there’s

a mystery here. “Trees” works for me, and that’s the ultimate test. (As a

small plus, which really should not be factored in, but which I think

probably was, Kilmer was a genuine American hero.)

John Derbyshire — Mr. Derbyshire is a former contributing editor of National Review.

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