Among my favorite poetry critics (William Logan, Michael Hofmann, David Orr, Ange Mlinko, and Michael Robbins) perhaps no one can be as cutting as Michael Lista:
Carson is popular because she has given poetry back to the only people who still want it—academically educated poets. Her fame coincided with poetry’s extinction in the wild. Gone was the general readership that Robert Frost, W. H. Auden, and Sylvia Plath once enjoyed. Poetry retreated into fine-arts programs and comparative-literature departments: it now survives only in captivity. In other words, Carson is the poet we deserve. Two hundred years ago, in his preface to the Lyrical Ballads, William Wordsworth wrote that poetry should cleave “near to the language of men.” Wordsworth’s own verse hums with the mental energy of the ordinary readers who inspired him. In a weird way, Carson may be just as representative of our own time and of her main readers: arts and humanities graduates with more student debt than talent. Carson now produces “texts”—genre-less, amorphous pieces of writing. Her abstruse, down-tuned music is the soundtrack to poetry’s institutionalized life in the twenty-first century.
Michael Lista, Is Anne Carson the First Poet with More Fans than Readers?