Critical Overview

(Poetry for Students)

Writing for the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Lawrence Ries says of MacBeth’s poetry that “The critical response to the individual publications has been mixed: angry, admiring, frustrated, laudatory.” Ries further observes the difficulty reviewers and literary historians have had in placing MacBeth in an established literary category, or movement, even though he was associated to some extent with The Group, a gathering of poets who attempted to rejuvenate poetry readings and gatherings, among other endeavors. Critic M. L. Rosenthal, writing in The New Poets: American and British Poetry Since World War II, describes (in 1967) MacBeth as “a lively, witty, young poet, [though] there is nothing in his work that could in any sense be called revolutionary.” Perhaps the best way to understand MacBeth’s relationship to his critics is to read the blurbs he includes on the dust jacket of his books. Because he did not hold that poetry necessarily had to be great, or even good, he did not attempt to curry the favor of critics, like many of his contemporaries. Critical judgements, for MacBeth, were a farce. The list of “endorsements” on the cover of his Collected Poems: 1958-1970 include the following and illustrate his attitude towards those who would write, either ill or well, of him: “Extraordinary gifts arrogantly wasted.” (—Anonymous writer in The Times Literary Supplement); “His poems are pretentiously exotic,...

(The entire section is 308 words.)