They had better think again

Adam Kirsch writes in the New Criterion:

If millions of people think Rupi Kaur is a poet, comparing her to Wallace Stevens won’t convince them otherwise.

I believe I understand correctly what Kirsch is saying here but I wish he had used compare with instead of compare to. I’m aware that the distinction between the two phrasal verbs has nearly vanished in colloquial English but even so, the writer should have played the pedant to the reader’s benefit.

On the subject of compare to/with, the most commonly cited authority seems to be Jacques Barzun, namely this dictum of his from Simple & Direct:

Any writer can compare himself with Shakespeare and discover how far he falls short; if he compares himself to Shakespeare (i.e., puts himself on the same level), then he had better think again.

If you don’t think Rupi Kaur is a poet, comparing her to Wallace Stevens won’t convince you. (It could anger you or make you die of laughter.) If you do think she is one, comparing her with Stevens won’t convince you. (“So what? By Stevensian standards, most poets are inferior to Stevens.”)

Casuistry aside, what if a million people took to composing short free-style poems on Instagram? A dozen million perhaps? Would that produce a few first-rate pieces? Half a page of first-rate lines, at the very least? I’d say yes to the last one: good lines sometimes come out by accident so occasionally they should appear by design.

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