Essays on the State of Poetry

Each Friday this summer we are posting essays on the State of Poetry by poets, publishers, and critics throughout Massachusetts. Each person has a different view of what it meant by “state of poetry,” giving each essay a different slant.

Here they are in the order we posted them, with a tempting quote from the essay:

  • Richard Hoffman: “I have a life that is largely made of poetry, of the poetry of others, both the dead and the living, and the poetry I try to write. I would not exchange that life, that ongoing education, that continual growth, for anything.”
  • Doug Holder gives his perspective of the ever changing Boston area small press and poetry scene. “I remember coming to Boston to go to college in 1973. Back then you basically had (according to my recollection) the academic poetry crowd, fed by the plethora of universities and colleges in the area, and the alternative crowd of non-academic barbarians  in the Stone Soup Poetry group founded by the late Jack Powers.”
  • J.Kates: “[I]t’s a sad fact of our own myopic culture that all too little literature from abroad gets published in the United States. We are very much a culturally deprived nation. . . . That’s the bad news. The good news is that poetry from around the world is now more easily accessible than it has ever been before.”
  • Lori Desrosiers: “The state of poetry in Massachusetts is alive and well. Western Massachusetts is the home to many great colleges and universities, all of which have their own reading series. There is a vibrant community poetry scene, holding festivals and reading series in coffee houses and restaurants.”
  • Stephen Burt: “Almost all literary movements and moments expire in a crowd of imitators: what Hoagland called, disparagingly, “the skittery poem of our moment” may be about to slip into just that crowd. Yet Hoagland’s nominee for its replacement—what he calls “narrative,” especially the autobiographical sort—seems an unlikely successor. What will come next instead?”
  • Alice Koceimba: “What is clear to me from hosting over one hundred and fifty featured poets is that the ability to read one’s own work to a live audience is hit-or-miss.  I have had some fine poets read poorly, and some not so fine poets read very well. “
  • Michelle Gillett:  “The distinctions between what is great, good and terrible are becoming less noted, making it easy for poets to lose their edge, or hone their edge, or even aspire to have an edge.  Poets tend to be a support group for each other rather than providers of honest assessment.”
  • Alan Feldman: “Read anthologies from, say, the 1920s, and see how much seems really alive to you.  Or search the whole of the 19th century, so many poets and poetasters in our new country, and find anyone to match Whitman, Dickinson, Melville, Emerson, Whittier (in “Snowbound”) and Longfellow (in “The Jewish Cemetery at Newport”).  That’s it, I think.  Out of all those hundreds, nay, thousands of poets . . . including Abraham Lincoln (whose oratory was his poetry, admittedly).”
  • Steven Cramer: “The three poems I discussed with my friends have almost nothing in common other than they are very good of their kind.  Bringing them together into one discussion created a cross-generational “state of contemporary poetry,” healthy as the quality of our conversation about them. “
  • Danielle Legros Georges: “America is best when it recognizes its inherent plurality.  Americans are best when, embracing plurality, we move toward and seek to understand those around us.  Americans are best when we are engaged and dialogic.  Not presuming sameness paradoxically allows us to arrive at shared qualities.  It allows us to see that, though different in many ways, de Crèvecoeur, Wheatley, and Lazarus, were each immigrants or the daughter of immigrants.  They were bicultural, and bilingual, if not speakers of several languages.
  • Joan Houlihan: “I quickly discovered that the prose written about both language poetry (its predecessor) and my jokingly-coined post-avant poetry was itself opaque.  This disturbed me.  Combined with falling into the rabbit hole of post-avant poetry and its criticism, was the vehement and sometimes shockingly angry reaction I was getting to my essays from poets responding on blogs and through email.  My inquiries were obviously stirring up dust, but what was the cause?  I had hoped for a clear defense/apologia or simply an idea of how to read such poems as the ones I cited in my essay on post-avant-ism (“Post-post Dementia”), but instead I got vitriol (even threats) or an urgent gratitude (from people who did not want me to “use their names”).  What was going on here?”
  • January O’Neil:  “Poetry is still one of the least-selling genres by publishing standards, but for many, the book is the ultimate goal. And how much does the tenure track play into the career path of an emerging writer trying to secure employment, maintain a personal life, and feed their creativity? There are more reasons not to be a poet some days.”
  • Charles Coe: “I can’t count the times someone’s invited me to read and never even brought up the subject of money. I always say, “It sounds like an interesting event, and I’m available that date. What compensation are you offering?” Often they start to sputter and mumble, like I’d asked if it would be okay to read in my underwear.”
  • Jennifer Jean: “That’s why I like ars poetica—they’re reflective. I’ve an anthology of this form: What Will Suffice: Contemporary American Poets on the Art of Poetry, edited by Christopher Buckley and Christopher Merrill. Amazing stuff! Stuff not made less amazing by Kwame Dawes’ tweeted “Memo to Poets” which advises:  Only one poem about writing poems a year. Or by Diane Lockward’s credible blog post  on this form, which further admonishes: I allow you one in a lifetime.”

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