Since its founding forty years ago, Parnassus has stubbornly hewed to a single guiding principle: that poetry criticism should be practiced as an art. Along with insight, rigor, and good judgment, the critic needs a passion for style, a sense of adventure, an entertainer’s wit and timing. In “The Age of Criticism,” Randall Jarrell observed, “Taking the chance of making a complete fool of himself—and, sometimes, doing so—is the first demand that is made upon any real critic: he must stick his neck out just as the artist does, if he is to be of any real use to art.”
Parnassus has always encouraged its contributors to take precisely this chance. Often enough, sticking one’s neck out means not only taking stylistic risks but voicing unfashionable or negative opinions. Poets seem to have an especially hard time doing so. Some, doves by temperament, aren’t suited to real criticism. But many are simply too fearful. “If I give B’s book a bad review,” they reason, “he or one of his former students will pillory my own book when it’s published.” This widespread timidity, this failure of nerve, inhibits the frank exchange of ideas; what should be a bracing intramural conversation turns bland, parochial, prevaricating. At Parnassus, we strive for a minimum of hyperbole and a maximum of candor.