—from A Gallery of Ethopaths* For those of us who cherish text, There’s anguish in what I’ll say next. The world of letters, by tradition, Was one of grace, style, erudition— A shrine to language at its best, A temple of the precious blest Who had achieved the very heights Of glory in their verbal flights. All that’s gone, like faded dreams; There’s no one left today who seems To give a damn for perfect craft. Professors now are dull and daft Impostors who refuse to judge Between fine work and worthless sludge. If you rate books by wit and style It’s sure to rouse your colleagues’ bile; They’ll fret and grow antagonistic, Say your approach is “belletristic,” And hence not suited to a college Which deals in abstract lit-crit’s knowledge. If you read books and love them madly Professors take that very badly. They say it’s quaint and amateurish And to persist in it is boorish. Professionals just use the text To mirror theory, which reflects All that you need to know when reading— Love for great works shows lack of breeding And it’s discouraged as a rule In those who go to graduate school. As a result, our English teachers Display these most debased of features: They have no sense of skill and wit, Consider all aesthetics shit, Take no delight in humane letters And can’t tell bad stuff from the better. Artistic worth takes second place To gender, class, religion, race, Or what the faculty define As the current Party Line. Writers are judged by whether they Had something “positive” to say Advancing a leftish, liberal cause— Those who did not get scant applause. Authors are ranked, not by real merit, But what the prof can find and ferret Out about how they were enlightened, Whether their consciousness was heightened, Whether they’re Tory or progressive, Stolidly bourgeois, or transgressive, Whether they worked for women’s rights Or raised their voice against social blights. Writers whose work can pass this muster Have reputations with new lustre. Others are judged to be deficient— Their “social sense” was insufficient, Or they endure receptions icy Because their politics were dicey. Pound, Eliot, and Butler Yeats (By all sane standards, solid greats) Are only taught with cautious warning Laced with prim, high-minded scorning Because these men all said or wrote Things that get a liberal’s goat. Some others are in quarantine Like Byron, Kipling, Scott, Céline— Most academics can’t endure Their viewpoints, which they deem “impure.” Professors drop these real achievers For worthless, third-rate, trendy screevers Who now, because of sex and color, Are hailed as “major,” though they’re duller Than grey paint peeled off wooden pilings, And all alike as iron filings. You can dismiss, without ado, Bell Hooks, Maya Angelou, Jamaica Kincaid, Audre Lorde, And all the others in the horde Of hyped-up, bogus reputations. They are just media creations Designed to tip the canon’s scales Against the hated dead white males. The literary sense has died And we’re left with the putrefied Golems from miasmic mists Who fill up college reading lists. *Poet’s Note: A Gallery of Ethopaths is an epic-length satire, now coming to completion, and being readied for full publication. Over thirty sections of it have already been published in various journals. The meaning of the word ethopathy can be understood from my article on this coinage at aman.members.sonic.net/salemi.html Joseph S. Salemi has published five books of poetry, and his poems, translations and scholarly articles have appeared in over one hundred publications world-wide. He is the editor of the literary magazine Trinacria. He teaches in the Department of Humanities at New York University and in the Department of Classical Languages at Hunter College.