The most recent issue of The Antioch Review (Winter 2004) is devoted entirely to poetry and, more importantly, the criticism of poetry. Included are lengthy and insighful discussions of Eavan Boland, Charles Simic, and Frank Bidart, among others. Although at an earlier phase of recent literary history these essays might have been considered "academic," they are, relatively speaking, free of jargon and external agendas. This is an especially important point to make, because what is now called "academic criticism" is all but unreadable and concerned with everything but works of literature. Although poetry criticism is actually in less dire straits than the criticism of fiction in most academic journals, nevertheless we have come very far down a very dark road since the days when New Criticism and other approaches emphasizing "literature itself" were the coin of the academic realm. Not that I necessarily wish to see the return of New Criticism or some new variant--I have written critically of the limitations and flaws of the original proponents of the New Criticism. But what has been lost in the abandonment of this kind of formalism is any serious attention to the intrinsic value of reading works of literature as opposed to all other "texts." This is too high a price to pay. Mainstream literary journalism has by no means taken up the critical slack, and one of the few ways by which serious and sustained literary criticism might by saved is for literary magazines like The Antioch Review to print engaged criticism alongside the creative writing most such publications now emphasize. To this end, The Antioch Review should be commended for its efforts in this issue, and other journals should be encouraged to emulate them.
Addendum: See also the Pleiades Book Review, a new online service of the Pleiades literary magazine.