Let Poetry Die (and be reborn again, outside academia)

So argues a New England poet:

I love poetry.

But as far as the public is concerned, poetry died with the modernists.

No poets ever filled their shoes. And though there remain a number
of minor masters and one hit wonders, few passing pedestrians could
name a poet from the last 50 to 60 years – let alone the same
poet, let alone the title of a poem, let alone a first line. Even
though I’ve never watched a single game of ice hockey from beginning to
end, I know who Wayne Gretzky is. And even though I’ve never watched
more than two holes of golf, I know  that Tiger Woods is not just a
gifted philanderer, but a great golfer.

Ask anyone to name a novelist of the last half century and names will come tumbling.

How about JK Rowling?

Ask anyone to name a contemporary poet and you will be lucky to
scrape by with John Ashbery, notwithstanding his much ballyhooed publication in  Library of America.  I know because I’ve asked friends, acquaintances and perfect strangers. Try it yourself.

Patrick Gillespie is right. I encourage you to read his whole essay, which has not a whiff of pretension to it, just plain good sense, but here (below) is another example of a non-academic poet, a Russian named Vera Pavlova, recently published in Poetry magazine. (Which is relevant because the magazine and foundation are at the center of Gillespie's argument.)

Poetry is a terrific publication, but every year, I swear to God, the best issue is the spring translation issue…probably because foreign poets are not supported by the academia industry, so they must be heard and appreciated by the public, if they are to be heard at all. 

Heck, Pavlova has even been known to put out poetry by text, or so the rumor goes. And my God, does she write sexily. When was the last time you heard that from an academic?

Here's an example, from her If There Is Something to Desire:

Tenderly on a tender surface
the best of my lines are written
with the tip of my tongue on your palate,
on your chest in tiny letters
on your belly…
but darling, I wrote them
may I erase with my lips
your exclamation mark?


(translation by Steven Seymour)

One thought on “Let Poetry Die (and be reborn again, outside academia)

  1. Ya’ know, that’s devastatingly erotic poetry – that combined with her picture severely compromises my ability to rationally, judiciously, or objectively consider her poetry. I am, in a word, a wretch.

    And I agree with you as concerns Poetry Magazine.


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