• September 3, 2015

The New Math of Poetry

The New Math of Poetry 1

Roger Chouinard for The Chronicle

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Roger Chouinard for The Chronicle

It's hard to figure out how much poetry is being published in America. When I suggested to Michael Neff, founder of Web del Sol, that anyone can start an online journal for $100, he pointed out that anyone can start one via a blog for nothing. If current trends persist, the sheer amount of poetry "published" is likely to double, quadruple, "ten-tuple" in the decades ahead.

Who is writing all this poetry? In quieter times, the art's only significant promoters were English professors who focused on reading poetry for its own sake. Today colleges across America have hundreds of programs devoted to teaching men and women how to actually write the stuff. Those in charge of undergraduate and M.F.A. programs have cast themselves in the role of poetry-writing cheerleaders who are busy assuring tens of thousands of students that they are talented poets who should expect their work not only to be published but to win awards as well.

The notion that writing and performing "poetry" is the easiest way to satisfy the American itch for 15 minutes of fame has spilled out of our campuses and into the wider culture. You can't pick up a violin or oboe for the first time on Monday morning and expect to play at Lincoln Center that weekend, but you can write your first poem in May and appear at an open mike in June waving a "chapbook" for sale. The new math of poetry is driven not by reader demand for great or even good poetry but by the demand of myriads of aspiring poets to experience the thrill of "publication."

The new math is stunning. Len Fulton, editor of Dustbooks, which publishes the International Directory of Little Magazines and Small Presses, estimates the total number of literary journals publishing poetry 50 years ago as 300 to 400. Today the online writers' resource Duotrope's Digest lists more than 2,000 "current markets that accept poetry," with the number growing at a rate of more than one new journal per day in the past six months. Some of these journals publish 100 poems per issue, others just a dozen. If we proceed cautiously and assume an average of 50 poems per publication per year, more than 100,000 poems will be published in 2010.

But hold on to your pantoums, your prose poems, and ghazals. If journals merely continue to grow at the current rate, there will be more than 35,000 of them by 2100, and approximately 86 million poems will be published in the 21st century!

As stunning as those estimates are, they are likely to prove conservative. That's because Duotrope's editors "do not attempt to list all the poetry journals that are currently publishing" and, more important, because the rate of growth will almost certainly continue to rise as technology makes it easier for editors to accommodate the increasing number of poets clamoring for publication.

For those who protest that most of these thousands of journals can be dismissed as marginal—that we need pay attention to only a handful of "prestigious" ones, like Poetry and The New Yorker—may I suggest that there could be a few Blakes or Dickinsons swimming with the guppies in that wide prosodic sea? If a truly titanic poet were to appear, wouldn't one of the less visible but more adventuresome journals—Retort Magazine, say ("we favor the cutting edge over the blunt of the handle, the avant-garde over backward walking")—be more likely to be his or her publisher than would status-conscious professional journals like Ploughshares and American Poetry Review?

Perhaps serious readers should just ignore literary journals altogether and focus on poets talented enough to achieve book publication. Won't that make reading manageable in 2010 and in the years ahead?

Alas, books, too, are victims of the new math. Fifty years ago, the Yale Younger Poets was the only poetry-book contest in America. If this year's 330-plus contests continue to grow at the rate of just a half-dozen new ones per year, more than 50,000 prize-winning volumes will have been published by the end of this century. Add the hundreds of non-prize-winning chapbooks and collections with similar growth rates, and poetry books will easily top 100,000 by 2100.

What about anthologies? Aren't responsible editors who love great poetry eagerly reading all this verse, panning for gold? Hasn't it always been and isn't it still the mission of the anthologist to discover and present the best poetry available?

That may have been the goal in the days of Francis Turner Palgrave, Louis Untermeyer, Oscar Williams, Donald Allen, and Hayden Carruth; but the new math of poetry can fill us with only sympathy for the plight of editors attempting to gather honey from the acres of poetry that dot.com our literary landscape today.

Were a conscientious anthologist of this year's poetry to spend just 10 minutes evaluating each published poem, he or she would need to work 16,666 hours, which means it would take eight years to assess the eligible poetry for a 2010 anthology. If the current rate of growth continues, an anthologist trying to do that in 2100 will spend 141 years reading what promises to be that year's minimum of 1,760,750 published poems.

Faced with this runaway math, we should not be surprised to find editors abandoning their noble search for the best poetry available, in favor of more practical, defensive selection strategies. Consider the titles of this baker's dozen of contemporary anthologies (culled from the hundreds that show up on Amazon.com):

We Used to Be Wives: Divorce Unveiled Through Poetry

Language Poetries: An Anthology

Unsettling America: An Anthology of Contemporary Multicultural Poetry

Intimate Kisses: The Poetry of Sexual Pleasure

Place of Passage: Contemporary Catholic Poetry

American Diaspora: Poetry of Displacement

How Much Earth: An Anthology of Fresno Poets

Christ in the Poetry of Today

Sanctified: An Anthology of Poetry by LGBT Christians

Taste: An Anthology of Poetry About Food

Kindness: A Vegetarian Poetry Anthology

Sweet Nothings: An Anthology of Rock and Roll in American Poetry

Rubber Side Down: The Biker Poet Anthology

Restricting anthologies to LGBT Christians, language poets, or residents of Fresno, or limiting subjects to vegetarianism or sexual pleasure reduces submissions to a manageable level and makes it easier to market books. The sociology of the poet, the school of poetry, or subject matter trump the art itself. Who can deny that there are more people interested in sex, food, Christ, or rock 'n' roll than in ars poetica? Still, when the difficult questions "Is this an exciting poet? An original poem worth presenting to readers?" become "Is this a good biker poem?" or "Does this poet really unveil divorce?," the likelihood that great poetry will emerge is much diminished.

Such "anthologies" are less harmful, however, than those that actually pretend to select the "best." David Lehman and the guest editors of Scribner's Best American Poetry (hereafter known as BAP) have been protesting for years that they are just trying to publish a bunch of decent poems. Yet year after year, their title continues to make its glittering promise, with a cynical wink at sales.

The notion that a guest editor or team of screeners would read 100,000 poems is absurd. A look at the journals BAP routinely draws from gives a good clue as to methodology. In BAP 2008, for example, just 10 of the 2,000-plus journals and magazines available for consideration accounted for 37 of the 75 poems selected—49 percent. As in past issues, BAP 2008 privileged Poetry, American Poetry Review, The New Yorker, and a dozen or so other recurring publications. The probability that such a sliver of journals would continue to yield the lion's share of the "best" American poetry year after year were objectivity in play is unlikely.

Given that guest editors are faced with the impossibility of reading even a fraction of the poetry being published, it should not shock us if they favor the work of students, friends, and colleagues. Although Robert Hass freely admitted (in his preface to BAP 2001) that he had included the work of "friends," he neglected to note that one of those friends was his wife. Few have been as generous toward associates as Lyn Hejinian (BAP 2004), who included 13 language-poetry colleagues whose work she had previously published and promoted as editor of Tuumba Press.

BAP editors recognize the need to throw in a maverick journal or obscure poet or two each year to make it look like they are fulfilling the grand promise of their title. Although Scribner wants readers to believe that they are purchasing the "best," David Orr, in The New York Times Book Review, could be describing the entire series when he writes that the poems selected for 2004 "run the usual gamut from very good to slightly dull to what-were-you-thinking." Pinning the word "best" on such a "gamut" could win an award for Best Chutzpah.

Each year, The Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses ("best"—there's that word again) anthologizes a few dozen poems (along with fiction and essays). Here's Pushcart's own description of its nomination process: "Little magazine and small-book-press editors (print or online) may make up to six nominations from their year's publications." Editor Bill Henderson informs me that Pushcart received "4,000 to 5,000" poetry nominations for its 33rd edition.

Of course, many literary journals and presses don't bother to nominate—especially if they've noticed this zinger at the end of Pushcart's description of its modus operandi: "We also accept nominations from our staff of distinguished Contributing Editors." There are a whopping 232 of them listed for 2009, most employed by college writing programs.

No surprise that 28 of the 30 poets in the 2009 edition chosen by the creative-writing professors Phillis Levin and Thomas Lux are college teachers or retirees, in most cases from writing departments. A little Googling turns up multiple collegial and personal connections between winning poets and "Distinguished Nominating Editors." One "winner" boasts a nomination by his wife (she uses her maiden name). Another had been instrumental in procuring a reading gig for one and a judging gig for another of his "nominators" at his university. Pushcart Press and its distributor, W.W. Norton, would probably like to see 50,000 M.F.A. program "nominees" and 5,000 "Contributing Editors," all of them using the book as a required text for their writing classes (and in the years ahead probably will). As for the poetry, Orr's "very good to slightly dull to what-were-you-thinking" applies even more so here than to Best American Poetry.

Online, the most visited anthology (millions of hits per month) is Poetry Daily, which reprints a poem each day from books or journals. Extrapolating, that means it will publish 36,500 poems in the 21st century. Much impressed by prizes, university position, and po-biz power, the site's editors routinely ignore excellent poems by independent poets in favor of weaker ones by M.F.A. pros and po-biz heavies. Like its hard-copy cousins, Poetry Daily makes no serious attempt to present the best American poetry to the thousands of readers who visit its Web site daily.

Keep in mind that, when it comes to the new math of poetry, we can see only the tip of the iceberg. Unfathomable are the countless self-published chapbooks and collections printed each year, to say nothing of the millions of personal Web sites, blogs, and Facebook pages where self-published poetry appears. I remind readers who believe that such poetry can be dismissed unread that William Blake self-published his Songs of Innocence and Experience, Walt Whitman his Leaves of Grass, A.E. Housman his A Shropshire Lad, and that many of the poets who appear in prestigious journals today routinely self-publish their chapbooks.

The most common rebuttal to this critique can best be summed up as "The more the merrier." Instead of complaining about an embarrassment of trinkets, we should shout, "Hallelujah!" Doesn't the test of time always separate the silver and gold from the dross so that great poetry can emerge, if not for current readers, then for future ones?

My answer is that time has never been asked to test the astounding number of poems being published today, let alone what promises to be published in the future. To truly survey 21st-century poetry, future English professors will have to limit the scope of their courses so severely as to invite laughter. Professor X might specialize in the month of May 2049 while Professor Y concentrates on the first week of September 2098.

Like golf, poetry is becoming a sport that multitudes pursue and enjoy—and if it were simply a matter of more and more men and women writing poetry, I would be cheering along with the Academy of American Poets, the Poetry Foundation, the Association of Writers & Writing Programs, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Poetry Society of America, poets in the schools, poets in the prisons, and hundreds of other state and local advocates. Exercising language at its highest level is an absolute good, and (Plato be damned) in an ideal society everyone would write poetry.

But there's a difference between writing and publishing. Golf, after all, has an agreed-upon scoring system that lets every player know his or her standing, stroke by stroke, game by game. Mediocre amateurs cannot deceive themselves (or be assured by pros) that they are contenders. None of the golfers who end up on the green with Tiger Woods or Annika Sörenstam are there because of collegial or personal connections, or a judge's subjective judgment, bias, or laziness. They are there because their scores prove them to be superior golfers.

Perhaps the most sinister fact about the new math of poetry is that it allows the academic oligarchy that controls poetry to impose a nonaesthetic, self-serving scoring system without attracting notice or raising indignation. Since no one can possibly read the vast number of poems being published, professionals can ignore independent poets and reserve the goodies—premiere readings, publications, honors, financial support—for those fortunate enough to be housed inside the professional poetry bubble.

Marginalizing independent poets and the diversity of life experience they bring to poetry may help bolster M.F.A.-teaching careers; but how healthy is it for the art? Almost all of the world's great poetry has been written by independents, and most of the poets writing today (myself included) remain unaffiliated with any institution. Still, when it comes to the major awards and premier publication essential for wide readership, there seems to be little room at the top for independents. Apparently "Where does this poet teach?" is an easier question for committees to answer than "How good is his or her poetry?" (Kay Ryan, poet laureate of the United States, is the exception who proves the rule.)

If Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" were published next week by The New Formalist, Alan Ginsberg's "Howl" by Gnome: the online journal of underground writing, and Sylvia Plath's "Daddy" by Women Writers: A Zine, but none of those three poets held teaching posts in creative-writing departments, I'd wager that their poems would not appear in The Best American Poetry 2010 or The Pushcart Prize XXXIV or make their way into a Norton anthology. Three of America's most widely read, genuinely loved poems would be published—but the event would be more like a funeral than a birth.

On my desk is a worn college anthology titled Seventeenth Century Poetry and Prose. Donne, Herbert, Herrick, Jonson, Marvell, Milton—all of the great poets of that century, and all of the minor ones (as well as some now considered unreadable) are represented there. The hundreds of poets who are at this moment contemplating editing yet another poetry journal or anthology need to ask themselves if they will introduce readers to future Eliots, Bishops, Ginsbergs, or Plaths—or merely add more lineated prose to what Beckett would call "the impossible heap." "The weeder is supremely needed," Ezra Pound warns, "if the Garden of the Muses is to persist as a garden." The new math analyzed here suggests that poetry is on Miracle-Gro and is rapidly becoming a jungle.

Every now and then someone asks me, "Who are the best poets writing today?" My answer? "I have no idea." Nor do I believe that anyone else does. I do have an uneasy feeling that a Blake and a Dickinson may be buried in the overgrowth, and I fear that neither current nor future readers may get to enjoy their art. That would be the most devastating result of the new math of poetry. The loss would be incalculable.

David Alpaugh's poetry collections are Counterpoint (Story Line Press, 1994) and Heavy Lifting (Alehouse Press, 2007).


1. g8briel - February 22, 2010 at 01:39 pm

Poetry is simply suffering from the same thing that every other form of writing is suffering from. It is strange that, for the first time I can think of in history, we would find ourselves complaining of too much rather than too little when it comes to writing, but that is the case. I would suggest that the reaction to this overabundance will be more of a focus on local publishing (already well underway in many places), and that is not a bad thing. Local publishing will also look like it is contributing to the explosion of journals and chapbooks when really it is a regional appreciation of writing. Those who become revered in a certain area will then be promoted as the Blakes and Dickinsons of the future.

My personal favorite example of how this would probably look is Lorine Niedecker. She is now considered one of Wisconsin's greatest poets and is gaining prestige beyond the state long after her death.

Some of these "regions" will no doubt exist in a digital realm as well.

2. wramsey50 - February 23, 2010 at 02:39 pm

Thank you, Mr. Alpaugh. This may be the best expression yet of a gut-feeling many of us have had about BAP and the elite contests/periodicals, etc. What they are doing is natural enough, I suppose, winnowing the "heap" in order to expose, promote, and justify themselves. What I find saddest of all is that so many independents are unwittingly financing their own marginalization by sending checks to contests that are judged by MFA pros. It is to be expected that graduates of MFA programs will seek to advertise the merits of such programs by culling for their kin, but must we enable them?

3. graemeharper - February 23, 2010 at 07:46 pm

I have say, this suggestion bothers me: "Perhaps the most sinister fact about the new math of poetry is that it allows the academic oligarchy that controls poetry . . . professionals can ignore independent poets and reserve the goodies".
Nothing could be further from the truth. The digital world introduced opportunities to create and communicate without "control" in the manner suggested here. If anything, the "professional" critic is now replaced by creative writers and readers who exchange activities and artefacts directly. The world we live in is not about too much, at all, it is about empowerment, engagement, experience and exchange. And I say this not naively. Simply, if you believe in the power of "centralised" publishing, reviewing, creating and communicating then it is *that belief alone* that makes this so, not the digital world, which offers all creative writers and all readers so very many opportunities. We are living now in the age of creative experience.

4. nativepoet - February 23, 2010 at 11:10 pm

In my field, poetry can be used to attain tenure. Say if you have a social science or professional degree, you can publish a chapbook or a short fiction work and all of a sudden you study literature.

5. kevinoconnell - February 24, 2010 at 04:06 am

This article makes some good points. But I'm not sure what it's point is. At first it looks like it is going to be a call for the closure of houses of poetic ill repute, allowing the few bastions of the old virtues to shine through. It then turns out that the houses of ill repute might be a good thing. because they allow the starry talents a chance. But this is a misunderstanding of how starry talents work. They will take any amount of rejection from TLS or the New Yorker for the chance of one break in preference to any amount of exposure in the campus mag.. Phillip Larkin wanted away from Marvell Press and into Faber and Faber because TS Eliot was on the board of Faber and no one was on the board of Marvell Press. And Larkin begat Hughes, begat Plath, begat Heaney, begat Muldoon.....Clive James said that London and New York are the only cities with literary culture because they are the only places where editors can afford to say no to submitted work. Everybody wants the aura of exclusivity around themselves. Not nice, but a fact.

6. heatherpoet - February 24, 2010 at 05:42 am

As an English professor, an online magazine editor and e-book publisher, I found this article very interesting. Yes, there has definitely been an upswing in the publication of poetry. But, there has also been an increase in the genres of poetry as well. There is a grand difference between a spoken word artist poem and a poem that is written to be read in the academic arena and everything in between. I have spent a good deal of time with all kinds of poets and genres and all of them definitely have merit. It is the poetry that is spoken that has helped my friends encourage young people to express themelves through words instead of drugs and alcohol, ect. So, I say if there are a few more chapbooks out there and open mikes, it is well worth it because there are less people choosing destructive ways of dealing with life's hardships and more picking up a pen.

7. raghuvansh1 - February 24, 2010 at 06:49 am

Poetry is easy medium to express your emotions or thoughts.From ancient time thousand people were using this medium.Great poet of17Th century of Maharashtra TUKARAM grumbled too much poet were writing poems.and forcing to people to read their poems.I think situation is more worse today.Anyone can write poem and place it on blog. How many poems read by viewers no one know.There is famous joke about blog.Only blog er and his mother read a blog,.

8. markleidner - February 24, 2010 at 08:42 am

don't worry... today's dickinsons & blakes won't sit idly around, waiting, hoping for attention to descend on them... and thus remain uknown... they will know the world needs to hear their voices, and they will be consequently burdened with the responsibility... to take its ear by force... and master the poetry of self-promotion

9. amnirov - February 24, 2010 at 09:09 am

Ploughshares and its ilk are pretty lame, merely vapid repositories of the confessional 9 x 6, 18-line rectangular workhop poem, about as uninteresting as uninteresting can be. I'd guess that 99.99% of poetry is terrible, terrible stuff, and the tiny fraction that isn't wretched will not be read by more than a handful of people. But so what? A real poet, one who continues after his or her 25th year (TSE), is not so much concerned with the exterior world, but the interior world. I could care less if my work ever published again. I enjoy writing it, and will continue to write, if not for any reason other than pure self expression. Three cheers for the so-called amateurs and their online and small journals. They are what makes the world go around. If the academic study of creative writing feels a little marginalized or irrelevant, good.

10. qgnara - February 24, 2010 at 09:54 am

I cannot agree more with Mr. Alpaugh - American poetry (but also its art, its cinema, its music, etc) is suffering a crisis of mediocrity. I disagree with those who suggest that localized areas of influence - to go with the vapid trend of localized everything - are a good thing. Lorine Niedecker is a good example. Here in Wisconsin we're treated to numerous readings, festivals, and otherwise events celebrating "America's Greatest Unknown Poet" - whose poems, in my opinion, are devoid of charm or substance, and deserve to be forgotten, as most poems and most people, including ourselves, are forgotten. This is what happens when "local" (i.e. provincial) culture rules - in this case a culture propagated by creative writing professors and students. I believe that the solution is to get the critics back into the game - anyone who's read widely in the literature of all ages (including the present age) and who feel called to comment on what's going on, in the perspective of things past and present. Professors can band together to found a literary journal (but it's not such profound or glamorous work, is it?), to institute contests that are judged by highly educated judges, to give the whole "creative writing" enterprise a run for its money. Just my opinion! But enough of all this "creative writing" silliness I say.

11. profpinata - February 24, 2010 at 10:38 am

"Those in charge of undergraduate and M.F.A. programs have cast themselves in the role of poetry-writing cheerleaders who are busy assuring tens of thousands of students that they are talented poets who should expect their work not only to be published but to win awards as well."

I find this assertion to be an ill-informed and inaccurate generalization.

12. lukelea - February 24, 2010 at 10:43 am

If a great poem is written but nobody hears it, does that poem really exist? I would say not. Thus we must make do with the poetry of the past. Speaking of which, I nominate Bob Dylan for the Nobel Prize in literature.

13. dank48 - February 24, 2010 at 11:35 am

Don Marquis got it right, imo: "Publishing a volume of poetry is like dropping a rose petal into the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo."

Robertson Jeffries observed years ago that he realized he had devoted his life to epic poetry in an age "that cares so very little for it." No doubt. But is that any reason not to write poetry?

I haven't the slightest doubt that most poetry published on line is lousy. Most poetry written is lousy. Most fiction, nonfiction, drama, you-name-it that gets written is lousy. Theodore Sturgeon is variously quoted, in regard to science fiction as compared with "straight" fiction, "Ninety percent of anything is crud." There's nothing new here.

It's not widely known that approximately half the books published in this country go almost directly from the press to the pulper. More on-line publishing will mean that some poetry (etc.) can get published or "published" without paper and ink, not to mention without coherent design, appropriately considered copy editing, sensitive typesetting, and empathetic printing and binding. Good.

And of course like most of what gets posted, it will for the most part be ignored. So be it.

14. marlyyoumans - February 24, 2010 at 11:45 am

Perhaps it is time to pull Flannery O'Connor from the shelf: "Everywhere I go, I'm asked if I think the universities stifle writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them."

15. contreras - February 24, 2010 at 12:36 pm

Perhaps that is why, er, Robertson Jeffries is a name so little remembered. And I certainly salute O'Connor's comment.

There are two principal problems with the state of poetry today. First, the production and adjudication of poetry has become a profession rather than a calling. That is something fairly new and fairly bad. It has, in essence, production quotas. I don't think this can be changed quickly or easily.

One thing that can be changed is for editors of the major poetry journals to switch to a name-blind acceptance policy. Accept the poem first, then check to see who wrote it. A few years of that approach would help get good new poets some exposure and would also snuff some of the pretenders.

Alan Contreras
Eugene, Oregon

16. jrlarsonus - February 24, 2010 at 01:08 pm

"American poetry (but also its art, its cinema, its music, etc) is suffering a crisis of mediocrity."

I suspect most anyone who was asked would at least partially agree with this, just like they'd tend to agree that people are becoming ruder, more selfish, dumber, or whatever than they were in the not-so-distant past (the general pessimism we have toward "today's world" versus "the Golden Age").

But here's the thing: $$$ = votes. Every dollar you spend on a book or a subscription or a donation is a vote you cast to say, "Yes, this is how it should be, this is worth my money." So apparently we're voting for crap hand over fist.

If so many people agree that the bulk of poetry published today is awful, then who the hell's reading all of it? Who's buying it? If there's all this other (always vaguely and nebulously defined) cutting-edge, avant-garde, indie work that's so great just floating around out there, why aren't we knocking each other down to get to it? Why aren't the big profit-driven publishers swooping in and snapping it up? Who's behind the conspiracy to keep everything mediocre?

I'd like to offer a simpler and less conspiratorial scenario: no one's buying poetry. No one's buying poetry books, and no one's buying subscriptions to mags/zines. Most people simply aren't willing to pay $10 - $20 an issue for a mag/zine year after year, or for book upon book of poetry. How many books of poetry did you buy last year? How many lit mags do you subscribe to? How about the people your friends? No one I know buys poetry books or subscribes to lit mags. We visit libraries for that.

A lot of writers themselves are probably only reading as much of a mag/zine as they need to to decide whether they should submit something there. Everyone wants to be read but no has time to read other people's work--they're too busy writing their own stuff they hope other people will read.

If that's true (or even if there's just some truth to it), that's probably the source of the problem: more and more people are writing and submitting poetry and stories to small markets (because there are so many more of them and they're more accessible), but fewer and fewer people are actually _reading_ them (especially if they have to pay to do so). In any scenario like this you're bound to flood the market with the mediocre, while the people who pay want more assurances that they're getting something better than the usual dreck, which is why big names sell so well.

And there are other problems, not the least of which is that poetry, like anything else art-ish, breaks along lines of taste. I gravitate toward narrative, scenic poetry and despise artsy-fartsy experimental poetry. I think it's pretentious deadly dull. Other people eat it up and feel like more traditional poetry is as stifling and and cloying as their grandma's attic. Fair enough. There's poetry aplenty. I don't care if someone doesn't like what I like, and I hope they feel the same. They're not keeping anything from me by disliking it.

My point is that someone (lots of someones--i.e. "we") is ringing the Bell-curve of mediocre or bad poetry. The internet allows anyone and everyone to "publish" or to be a "publisher." Easy access to free poetry spoils us into thinking poetry should always be free (would you pay for something else ubiquitous on the internet, like email?). Free good-enough poetry is better (and easier to obtain) than expensive above-average poetry.

17. katharine - February 24, 2010 at 01:42 pm

But I want to shout out the 2007 BAP ed by Heather McHugh. It's great. One wonderful poem after another, and it really read like she was choosing poems rather than poets. Continuous sensibility at work throughout, in love with language, sound, rhythm, word play, sound play, not the "lineated prose" we're innundated with. It's a really wonderful compilation and I enjoyed ever page.

18. tallenc - February 24, 2010 at 01:49 pm

Alpaugh's essay certainly provokes thought...and one thought that it provokes stems from this following observation: "Every now and then someone asks me, "Who are the best poets writing today?" My answer? "I have no idea." Nor do I believe that anyone else does. I do have an uneasy feeling that a Blake and a Dickinson may be buried in the overgrowth, and I fear that neither current nor future readers may get to enjoy their art."

I can't help wondering if we truly know "the best poets who wrote in the past" either. Have we read them all, or only the ones that got published because particular editors liked them? Might there not have been other Blakes and Dickinsons in the past that, like those of the present, remained unknown?

It's probably safe to assume that there's far more poetry being written and published now than in the past, but I'm not sure it's safe to assume that all the good stuff was discovered, recognized, published, and disseminated in any time period.

19. hiram - February 24, 2010 at 01:51 pm


1. Ill-considered nostalgia for ages past might ultimately aid you in achieving your goal (which, I THINK, is undermining the academic elite), but it undermines your argument here. It's so bizarre to suggest that your 17th century anthology is actually comprised of "all" minor poets from the period that it's hard to take anything else you say seriously. That's a shame, because you say much that seems like it should be taken seriously.

2. One thing that keeps the academic elite in power is that it wields little real "power." Poetry is worth very little to society. Its value resides in securing teaching jobs; you imply that if poetry were liberated from the prison of the academy that the middle-class en masse would run out and buy volumes of poetry to such an extent that it would have some kind of extra-academic cultural impact. This seems a crazy suggestion. You don't have to have a degree to BUY the stuff, to read the stuff. The fact is that, though people enjoy writing it, they don't enjoy reading it--or not enough to actually pay for the privilege of doing so. Maybe if more people read poetry, they'd write less of it. It certainly slows you down, and it tends to discourage you if you have no talent.

3. If all these "independent" poets turn to MFA programs in order to indulge their passion for poetry, how are these poets "independent" any more? MFA programs exist within the confines of the academy. So are "independent" poets failed academic poets? I'm willing to accept that argument.

4. Whatever else we can say about the nepotists who control who gets published in the (it's hard to keep a straight face while typing this word in regard to poetry) "major" publications, these academic poets are people who have chosen to organize their lives around something as absurd and very rarely beautiful as poetry. They are tantamount to Olympian athletes who sacrifice Friday nights at the movies with her friends in order to pursue a risky occupation. And the rewards for these academic weirdos--these people who walk around worrying about metaphors from three hundred years ago--is very modest. No one's getting rich of this stuff. So it would seem that their being in control wouldn't be the worst thing that could happen. There are always arbiters of taste, gatekeepers. Who else is better qualified to choose what should be published than people who have devoted their lives to worrying about poetry to their own financial detriment?

5. If as much poetry is being written as you say there is, it should please anyone with a sense of the beautiful and absurd. This is a cold world; life is mean and short. Why not make something as useless as a poem? At its best, poem-making is a form of resistance to capitalistic pressure; at its worst, it is a mindless mirror of that pressure.

6. Might we be suffering from an "everyone's an artist" problem? Hell, maybe everyone IS an artist. But if that's true, then we have a kind of charmingly anarchic/narcissistic outcome--everyone's an artist, so no one has time interact anyone else's art but their own. Sounds like a yuppie Northern California hippie nightmare.

20. hiram - February 24, 2010 at 02:17 pm

Oh yeah! One more thing:

7. Of the chance of a good/great poet going undiscovered/unread, you write: "The loss would be incalcuable." Of course it would incalcuable--no one would know we lost it. Hard to calculate a loss you never really lost. You have to have it to lose it. And anyway, if we have it we have it--who cares if we know we have it? That genius lady, out there scribbling incredible poems during her coffee breaks at the pants-plant, is still influenciing the world, somehow. Does an agent and a PR campaign and a bunch of--drum-roll--academic-elite praise constitute not losing something beautiful. Beauty is its own reward, is what I'm getting at.

Also, let's imagine that we could calculate the loss of such a genius. Your statement of its being "incalcualbe" is really just a hyperbolic way of saying, "It would be real, real bad," which suggests that we actually could calculate the loss if we tried hard enough. So let's calculate it. A woman's 312 good poems--and her 9 great ones--go unpublished, unread. How is the world affected? What have we lost? Do we still have Shakespeare? Do we actually NEED any more poems than what we have? What if everyone just stopped writing poems altogther? Would the world look any different? Of course not. It's scary to look into the abyss (which, ironically, is where poets are supposed to look), but it whispers, "No one cares. It doesn't matter."

If you're so interested in some purer, more authentic state of poetic affairs, why don't you refuse to allow the surely academic editors who publish your poems the great privilege of doing so? Would you refuse to allow Harold Bloom to blurb your books?

Chill, main. It don't matter.

Thanks for writing about this! Fun stuff.

21. perpetual_student - February 24, 2010 at 02:51 pm

Oh for heaven's sake (pun intended)--One "universal" subjectivity cannot arise from the babel of pagan voices! The humanities are vitally important, but "people" shouldn't write because they aren't "geniuses" (the universal subjectivity made flesh)! This argument wants the humanities funded not as a practice but as a church.

22. trhummer - February 24, 2010 at 03:09 pm

'You can't pick up a violin or oboe for the first time on Monday morning and expect to play at Lincoln Center that weekend, but you can write your first poem in May and appear at an open mike in June waving a "chapbook" for sale.' False analogy alert. You CAN take your violin (or more likely your guitar) and play at open mic night any time you want; and any incompetent can make a music "album" at home on his or her computer. The logic of this assertion is fundamentally false: Lincoln Center is not equivalent to your local open mic night poetry slam. This kind of problematic falseness runs not only throughout this article but throughout the whole cultural argument about the place of poetry in our time. Alas for that.

23. jonjermey - February 24, 2010 at 03:24 pm

Poetry was invented as a mnemonic device: it's easier to remember stuff when it rhymes and scans. It became redundant with the invention of writing, and every new attempt to 'revitalise' it by removing rhyme, rhythm and meaning just emphasises how irrelevant it now is. Modern poetry is simply disconnected prose, and as such is completely forgettable.

Any modern teenager can recite the lyrics of a thousand songs, because they rhyme and have rhythm, but ask them to recite modern 'poetry' and you will just get a blank look. Let's put the wretched art out of its misery.

24. aldebaran - February 24, 2010 at 04:15 pm

A fascinating Babel of replies to this interesting article, which re-states Gresham's Law in a new context, and with an analysis of cronyism added to the measure. That said, it is also true that much of the problem lies with the lack of general interest in poetry in this culture and country (although let's not make the usual arrogant assumption that the United States is the world).

Jonjermey's silly and historically inaccurate assertion about the origins of poetry aside (when last I checked, Homeric verse does not rhyme), he is onto something in his reference to popular songs. Today, pop culture largely substitutes for high culture, even among most educated and intelligent adults. Song lyrics have indeed supplanted poetry for most people, today, not simply because rhyme and rhythm make them easy to remember, but because they are packages in popular, easily assimilable forms (popular music) and are "relevant" to the concerns of their audience.

It's fashionable to mock the idea of a "Golden Age", and rightly so, but that aspects of a prior age were better in some respects (at least by my standards and those of like-minded others) is incontestable. The days when the likes of a Lord Byron could write poems that were best-selling books seem to me longer ago than the era of the dinosaurs, because there are few, if any, Byrons today--and few readers who would recognize a Byron if he were to appear. If such poets do exist, then they are (to shift the comparison, and with apologies to Gray), "mute, inglorious Miltons"--or, more to the point, inglorious Miltons whose works are drowned in a sea of drivel. On this point, I think that Alpaugh is dead right.

25. speterfreund - February 24, 2010 at 04:42 pm

The current explosion of poetry publishing stems from two primary causes: self-promoting gatekeepers who publish one another in sufficient volume so as to impede open access to many of the pretigious poetry venues, thereby creating a need for alternative venues; and the failure of most poets to become literate and knowledgeable in their craft, thereby reinventing--and badly--much of what has come before.

Not only are manuscripts vetted with extreme prejudice at many prominent journals, but well-known poets who should recuse themselves as judges in breakthrough book contests do judge those contests and promote the interests of their acolytes regardless of the quality of the field. I have witnessed, as a member of a book prize screening committee, a prominent poet resign as the final judge when he could not persuade the screening committee to include the manuscript of his acolye in the group of finalists sent to him to judge.

The failure to become literate and knowledgeable may be summed up by one oft-repeated encounter between the entering English major and her/his advisor. The advisor inquires why the student became an English major, and the student responds, "because I like to write--I really don't like reading books all that much." When questioned as to what s/he likes to write about, the student replies, "Myself." This student thus reinvents much of what has gone before, thinking it is original, in utter ignorance of the precedents.

To be sure, there are other factors at play. Not unlike the late eighteenth century in England, America is questioning what there is left to write, and how to do so in a fresh and original manner. Whereas the dilemma gave rise in England to the cult of the "uneducated poet," which caused readers to look for fresh and original poetic voices in places other than those in which Oxbridge-educated men congregated, underground publication, and now electronic publication have become the venues of choice in our time.

Finally, leaving aside the question of the quality and durability of much of what is now being written and published, the very vibrancy of poetry's production gainsays the narrow anthropological analysis of jonjermey and his ilk. Thomas Love Peacock was making much the same arguments against poetry in "The Four Ages of Poetry" when P. B. Shelley was writing. And I for one am glad that Shelley fired back with _A Defence of Poetry_ and kept on with his poetry rather than being silenced.

26. 11211250 - February 24, 2010 at 05:07 pm

We fought this elitist idea of the arts back in the 60's and early 70's when "real" poetry only came from England or the left and right coasts. This was balderdash, of course. William Stafford, Tom McGrath, Bob Bly, John Knoepfle, Dave Etter, Mona Van Duyn, Ted Kooser... were wonderful poets who emerged out of middle America thanks primarily to the small literary magazines and small presses like BkMk Press in Kansas City that were scattered through the Midwest. In those days we believed that poetry was for everyone and could be written by anyone. As a whole Americans do not know poetry, do not experience the power of the word, feel nothing of the power poetry possesses. That's not because many people are publishing poetry. It's because Americans don't read poetry. To experience the rock concert atmosphere of the International Poetry Festival in Medellín is to know the power of poetry in the third world. It is the voice of the people, the cry of the hungry, the homeless, the refugee, the tortured, the raped, the murdered, the sick and dying, the oppressed, the joyful, the transcendent, the richness of the poorest of the poor. Poetry is for the everyone.

27. dank48 - February 24, 2010 at 05:10 pm

In his biography of Winston Churchill, William Manchester cites Byron's "shortest and most eloquent poem," about one of his romantic liaisons:

Caroline Lamb:

It's a couple centuries old, and I wouldn't say it's worn out its punch.

28. wrbilledwards - February 24, 2010 at 05:40 pm

I agree, but maybe not as you intended - I have a hard time detecting much punch to begin with!

But all I know about Caroline Lamb is from a very old, sexy, pretty bad movie.

I don't see how you could possibly prove that great poets were, or were not, being neglected, at some time in the past, or in the present, or less in the past than in the present. It is vaguely plausible that much more poetry is now being written via electronic media and thus good work is more likely to be missed, but if so, what could anyone do about it?

If I rewrote the previous words,"looking like a poem," would they become a poem? What can we say except that some people may be willing and able to say something both worth hearing and in memorable words and form, so that others choose not only to read it, but save it and pass it to many others, and fortunately it is remembered.

29. v8573254 - February 24, 2010 at 05:45 pm

My curiosity has to do with this: why do so many Americans want to write poems and see them published or read aloud or whatever?
Traditional English courses languish, but poetry and fiction writing courses burgeon.

30. fightingwords - February 24, 2010 at 06:51 pm

Some unfinished thoughts:

Maybe poetry culture is becoming like food culture- abundant and mundane- everyone cooks, everyone eats - everyone can cook and eat- and in the same way, with the abundance of Internet publication and semi-publication, everyone can write and share poetry.

Food still has ceremonial/ritual importance, you can pass down recipes, there are fads, some chefs and/or restaurants acquire special status, desirability - but there's no Food Canon- high school teachers can make their students read Shakespeare, but high school cafeteria workers don't mandate what the same students eat- there's some daily choice and variety, but you can always bring your own, personalized lunch - and there's no anxiety about whether the right or the best food is being eaten.

Maybe we're just getting more and more producers of poetry and culture, doing it for personal satisfaction, sometimes desiring or enjoying notoriety, but not aspiring to enter a canon. Mom's apple pie that won a blue ribbon at the kentucky state fair in 1953 - ephemeral, and even if it could be reproduced, there's no clamor for it.

If that's the new condition of poetry - personal, ephemeral, local - it overthrows the value of a Canon. because we still experience some poems, poets, aesthetic/intellectual experiences as better, richer, more rewarding than others, a Canon - though continually debated and revised - has value because it tells us where to direct our limited time, energy, attention. It claims to guide us toward the best, richest, most rewarding texts.

What remains to be seen is whether historical distance will allow future readers to reach a consensus about which 2010 poets are worthy of attention in 2110 - that somehow the best poems will endure, rise to the surface, transcend anonymity - or whether that kind of qualitative difference has vanished - and poets who attain success, fame, prestige may do so semi-randomly- not because their poetry is superior but because it lucks into success, fame, prestige -

31. stuartmunro - February 24, 2010 at 11:18 pm

An interesting article - but I sometimes wonder if the writer is more concerned with the loss of monopoly by literary scholars than by the flood of poetry per se.

The mass of modern poetry is unremarkable, reflecting the unremarkable lives of its authors. That people should seek celebrity through poetry is not remarkable either - Byron got more points for who than for what.

Posterity will keep the things that seem fittest to keep - a handful of half remembered metaphors - and the rest will become the province of antiquarian scholars. These will earn a mighty thin living, like the poets themselves - just enough to starve to death on, and that posthumously.

32. prjacoby - February 25, 2010 at 01:35 am

@stuartmunro --


33. shalomfreedman - February 25, 2010 at 02:42 am

Each poet believes his own poem worth reading and hearing.
What this seems to mean is that the world is filled with deluded and frustrated souls. It does mean that. But there is another aspect of it. The need to write and the joy of it, and the hope it gives the one who writes.
There is also the joy in the reading of others, especially perhaps those one has learned to love in the early years again.
If Poetry be the music of the soul, write on.

34. laceinpoint - February 25, 2010 at 09:33 am

Websites such as Berfrois (www.berfrois.com) are great for finding links to new poems online, but such portals do indeed tend to focus on “prestigious” sources for new poetry.

Surely there is some excitement and adventure, however, in readers having to seek out the best new poetry in the further recesses of the web, rather than being alerted to it by an anthology?

35. m7424 - February 25, 2010 at 01:59 pm

Who is to say that Whitman would continue to be "independent" in the present day? He self published because he believed in the work he was doing and would do anything to get his work out into the right hands - and IF (and this is a big IF) this is one thing an MFA program could help him to do, my guess is he'd be in an MFA program.

There are multitudes of different poetry communities - one of them being the academically oriented MFA candidates and their professors. Poetry communities have always helped to advance their own... Black Mountain, Objectivists, New Formalists, Language Poets... or else this work might not have been heard. The MFA candidates and affiliates are, in some ways, just a larger and more diverse community. I just don't see this as any different than what previous generations of poetic schools or movements have done.

Maybe the answer is that IF (again, a big IF) major poetry prizes have been corrupted by the MFA cohort, the "independent" poets should create their own foundations and prizes specifically for the purpose of championing poets without such connections. But then, you'd have the problem of sifting through those tens of thousands of poems.

36. charlotteboulay - February 25, 2010 at 02:20 pm

The depiction of the vast increase in poetry as "sinister" doesn't make sense to me. The author seems to think it's incredibly horrible that poets tend to publish people they know or to privilege those working in the academy. Okay, nepotism and small scope of reading can certainly be a problem, but is it any wonder that most poets have ended up working for the only remaining institutions that value their talents? And is the nepotism in the poetry world any different from the way you get ahead in ANY OTHER BUSINESS--by knowing people? It's an unfair system like all unfair systems, but Alpaugh offers no solution.

There are actual problems associated with the lack of serious and wide-ranging criticism in the poetry world, but I hardly think we should stay up nights worrying that it means we're going to miss the next Milton, the next Great Poet of the Age. He could, instead, highlight the handful of magazines that are publishing pretty wonderful criticism that is weeding out the big pile of poems (Fence, Boston Review, to name only two). And be grateful that the increase in writing poetry probably means an increase in valuing poetry in this country. Also, Wordsworth publishing his own first book is just not the same as using a blog or a vanity press today--it was much more common in his era and didn't necessarily have a stigma attached--that comparison is just a false parallel. If the people who run the "Best" American Poetry series have too much of a hegemony, and they probably do, then while they may be taking too narrow a view, they may also just have capitalized on a small market for poetry and done a good job of marketing. So, figure out how to do it better, don't just complain and point fingers and bemoan the state of the world.

37. aldebaran - February 25, 2010 at 03:34 pm

stuartmunro wrote,

"That people should seek celebrity through poetry is not remarkable either - Byron got more points for who than for what."

Nonsense. Byron's career as a well-known best-selling author began with "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage", whose first part was published in 1812, at a time when only the critics of his earlier volume "Hours of Idleness" knew who Byron was. Byron's literary celebrity long preceded (and laid the groundwork for) his personal celebrity--or infamy--not the reverse.


Sorry that Alpaugh wrote the article that he wanted to write, rather than the one that you wanted him to write, but your dismissal of the article as a mere finger-pointing lament makes me wonder how carefully you bothered to read it.

Alpaugh endeavors to analyze the state of poetry today, and the reasons for that state. Regardless of whether one agrees entirely with his analysis, it is thorough and thought-provoking. One must first recognize and understand a problem before one can solve it.

38. wramsey50 - February 25, 2010 at 04:56 pm

M7424 thinks that if Walt Whitman were alive today "he'd be in an MFA program."

Imagine what "Song of Myself" would be reduced to if subjected to an MFA writing workshop. My "guess" is that Whitman would know better than to grind himself into a sausage casing.

39. kevgri - February 25, 2010 at 05:44 pm

I just published a satirical short story in which a secret government agency is created in response to the walloping rise in the number of poets. Special assassins are trained to take out mediocre writers.

That aside, here are some more realistic suggestions to address this problem:

1. No more manuscript competitions that charge reading fees. The number of presses that publish poetry (and, thus, the number of books of poetry) would drop dramatically if they had to actually rely on sales to offset the cost of publishing and marketing a book. Instead, most presses are like collective vanity presses, in which a large number of poets each pays for a chance at publication. It used to mean something when you published a book. Now I have colleagues in creative writing who publish two books of poetry a year.

2. Publications like the Writer's Chronicle and Poets and Writers should refuse to advertise magazines and journals that run poetry contests constantly.

3. a. Even better--only magazines who pay for work (and that includes paying for poetry)should be allowed to advertise in the above journals. That would eliminate all but about a dozen magazines.

3. The AWP should have standards for what constitutes a valid M.F.A. program. An M.F.A. program should be accredited only if it has at least two tenured or tenure-track faculty in each of the genres it purports to offer degrees in. This action would cut down on the ever-increasing number of "low-residency" programs at places you've never heard of.

4. Before you even submit a poem, you have to write one as good as Philip Larkin's "Vers de Société." Yeah. Like that will happen.

40. raymondjshaw - February 25, 2010 at 05:45 pm

#15 Blind submission is an excellent idea; I'm surprised it isn't the norm.

#18 Excellent, perspective-altering point -- who knows what exceptional poetry was never discovered. That's had me thinking all day long. Here's more: what poetry was never written down because of the social/economic circumstances of the poet...

#21 Amen!

#33 made my point before I did -- poetry is not intended just for readers, and perhaps the reader is the least concern of the poet (outside of those seeking tenure...). It's *about* expression, and "publishing" it in all the electronic places and chapbooks is a way of empowering the writer, reader be damned.

With regard to the issue of unfound/lost/unidentified poetry... well, in a field of clover, one cannot find all the four-leaf clovers out there, so finding *one* of them is a moment of transcendence, knowing that its precious nature includes the fact that there are others yet to be found, or that will never be found. The circumstances enhance the wonder and beauty of what *is* found.

41. jhoch1 - February 25, 2010 at 10:09 pm

This article suffers from the same problem that all articles like it do: Failure of scope and purpose. If this article is an attempt to capture the state of poetry today, it is a poor sketch where a mural is needed. If it is an attempt to somehow indict the academy as being non-inclusive of non-academic poetries, it fails to consider the breadth and diversity of poetry in the academy, the history of poetry, and the history of poetry in the academy. It does not hold up to scrutiny. However, it is just the kind of shallow engagement that could get published in this forum. I guess that is what we got here: An example of an argument that is remarkably similar in quality as the state it claims that poetry occupies.

42. selenology - February 25, 2010 at 10:19 pm

I say pooh-pooh! to academic poetry, with of course the occasional exception.

The lifeblood of poetry for the last twenty years hasn't been anywhere near these publications. It's in "pop culture" -- namely, spoken word, slam and hip hop. Sure, there's plenty of dross there, too, but look at Black Ice or Poetri or almost any of the performance poets on Def Poetry (and if you haven't heard of this, go to!). Why is this the lifeblood? Because a lot of it is good; it's filtered by many people with varied qualifications; and most importantly, it is "consumed" and appreciated by rather a large audience.

None of the fabulous young poets who win the Youth Speaks slams could possibly be accused of dilletantism, lack of artistry, or disinterest in other people's art. For example.

43. zoe_shorn - February 26, 2010 at 02:11 am

Is poetry really the primary locale of literary mediocrity? Not what I can tell from browsing bookstores. When will the generalizing about graduates of MFA programs stop? Is an "independent" who has found haven or maybe perhaps merely livelihood in the field of law or insurance or medicine (to use historical examples) more noble somehow than those who have found haven in academic communities? In a world in which poetic thought is extremely marginalized, I wonder where one might suggest poets find solace, camaraderie, freedom to write, freedom from the blackhole of capitalism (which is not to say i think academia is without its crushing bureaucracies and problems, "professionalization" being top on that list)? Are we to return to a time when only the truly privileged had the means or time to write? Need we hold on to this image of the rugged pioneering solitary writer manifesting his/her own destiny? And are we to pretend that the "greats" of yesterday, the canon, just rose up out of the slush pile of time like a legion of Christs...that these too were not, in part, chosen and molded by people in power? Perhaps the independent is independent of place altogether, is independent in the mind... and so free from this crass competitive jousting altogether.

(and I dare say if Whitman was in a workshop he would not allow himself be de-clawed, and if he did he would not be Whitman as we imagine. or perhaps he would so prove himself eminently human.)

44. aldebaran - February 26, 2010 at 10:45 am


You would be much more convincing if you bothered to cite specific examples of why this is a such poor article. Instead, your condescending and cliched generalizations exemplify the alleged weaknesses you claim for the article. If the article is merely a poor sketch where a mural is needed, then your critique of it suggests graffiti on a bathroom wall where at least a sketch is needed.

45. akafka - February 26, 2010 at 10:52 am

I just wanted to flag an amusing poetic comment in poetic form that was flagged for me. Go to http://www.ablemuse.com/erato/showthread.php?p=143537 and search for "sylvia franklin" ...

Alex (an editor at The Chronicle Review)

46. alquiere - February 26, 2010 at 01:22 pm

Two words, for both the author of the article and some of the commenters, from the great poet, Aesop: SOUR GRAPES

47. pennyu - February 26, 2010 at 02:54 pm

As a scholar of 16th-century Italian poetry, I read this essay with considerable historical interest. The narrowly themed anthologies listed by the author don't look strange to anyone who has perused volumes from the first century of print by small groups in honor of their city, a recently deceased friend, or a prominent marriage ceremony. Might we not compare the glut of poetry to the similar explosion in on-line music and video production? To an audience passionate about the form, this is all to the good. Readers, listeners, and viewers develop increasing capacities for discernment, the aesthetic develops, and the cream rises to the top.

48. aldebaran - February 26, 2010 at 03:37 pm

*Yawns* A typical "Chronicle" comments thread, in which an article states a thesis, and it attracts mostly contrarians who disagree with it, and who try--feebly, in most of the instances here--to indicate why the author has it all wrong.

49. aldebaran - February 26, 2010 at 03:40 pm


"small groups in honor of their city, a recently deceased friend, or a prominent marriage ceremony. Might we not compare the glut of poetry to the similar explosion in on-line music and video production? "

No, but we might mention that what you are referring to is occasional verse, and that is not the same thing that the author means by referring to themed anthologies that limit themselves to one type of poet, as opposed to one type of theme.

50. morescotch - February 26, 2010 at 04:24 pm

Does this "math" actually make any sense?

For instance, he's making the assumption that literary journals never close down, when in reality many have a fairly brief life span. There's no attempt to define what a journal is. And there's no accounting for the possibility that internet publishing is still a relatively new phenomenon, given the time frame of his argument, that might, oh I don't know, level off in terms of its rate of growth eventually.

New publishing is good for independents, it's good for poetry, and "the new math" is clearly just a pretense to make the same tired argument about success and academia, which is the real problem with this article: "Perhaps the most sinister fact about the new math of poetry is that it allows the academic oligarchy that controls poetry to impose a nonaesthetic, self-serving scoring system without attracting notice or raising indignation." How is "the new math" to blame for a problem that existed prior to "the new math"? Isn't he simply judging "the new math" by "the old success"? Standards of success are already changing. It's no longer necessary to be in the New Yorker or have a book from a major trade publisher to be considered successful. Everyone agrees the New York Times poetry reviews are irrelevant. That doesn't stop people from finding books to read from Rain Taxi. This isn't an argument about wanting to find the next "Howl" or "Daddy", it's an argument about wanting to be the next Robert Lowell.

-Sam Amadon

51. zoe_shorn - February 26, 2010 at 04:44 pm

I'm with Mr. Amadon. The wolf in the field is exactly the oligarchy (though I'm not sure it's primarily "academic") that presumes to name and number what we are to value.

It seems to me one of "the easiest way to satisfy the American itch for 15 minutes of fame" might be to write an irresponsible little article that suggests the demise and mediocrity of something alive and full of innumerable merits.

So who now will write an article about the glut of articles about the glut or dissolution of poetry?

52. aldebaran - February 26, 2010 at 05:18 pm

Hmm, clearly, the word is out about this article, and now the defenders of the status quo are arriving in force, like army ants to the attack--and with about the same level of individual intelligence. They are getting more shrill, too, as the pair of preceding posts indicate.

OK, so, poetry has never been more vital than it is today; MFAs and academic cronyism are a great thing, on the one hand, and, on the other, the glut of little journals, "cheapbooks" (sic) and Web postings that no one will ever read proves how filled with "innumerable merits" the current state of poetry really is. Now, are all the article's nay-sayers satisfied?

53. jhoch1 - February 26, 2010 at 05:48 pm

Dear Mr. Aldebaran,

It is not incumbent upon me to prove anything. I make no claims.
What I am saying is that this article seems to want to make claims that this format can not capture. Therefore, it is really not capturing much if anything. However, you are right. This graffiti is just that. But of course, I was not doing anything but spraying graffiti (not that there is anything wrong with that). The article poses to be something else, but lacks the necessary research to be what it seems to be. Sorry, if my tone sounded condescending. Of course, one wonders how one can be condescending while simultaneously a graffiti artist. That aside, if I had the time and ambition to paint the mural that is the contemporary poetry world (not just America, mind you) I would certainly not choose an article here to do it. I think I would take a few years out of my life and try to really do it justice. Basically, I am not saying that what this article is suggesting is wrong per se. I am suggesting that the article does not prove anything and largely is a failure of what it seems to want to prove. Now, for something really important: parenting.

54. bishop64 - February 27, 2010 at 12:57 pm


Of course this article and the comments are very thought-provoking. I am not sure the question the author says he is always asked-- "Who are the best poets writing today?"-- is ever answerable. I think it's good that he can say he has no idea.

He's probably right that "our" Dickinson or Blake is publishing in smaller presses (or not publishing?), more likely to be found in Retort or Tarpaulin Sky or Action Books than in Ploughshares. Though Plougshares is pretty good too.

But maybe we can stop fetishizing Blake and Dickinson and everyone else. I can tell you that history occludes plenty of voices as well, buries them-- the disappeared voices of color of this continent (and others) attests to it.

Don't be nervous not to discover "your" "Dickinson." You'll find her. Maybe I'll have mine. Why argue against a plurality of voices? Playing an oboe is not the same as using language, something we all know how to do, something that's always been politicized in terms who has the right to use it, to be a writer or poet at all.

One has to take issues of class, gender and race into account when talking about issues like these, since they seem to be the invisible factors. So we are all speaking now; but you don't have to listen to everyone.

Maybe we don't need "a" Dickinson, but several or ten or a hundred.

Besides, we don't even have Dickinson or a Blake: every edition of Dickinson, including the newest, is an editorializing of the actual manuscripts. And most editions of Blake, though not all, exclude the images and his handwriting. So when you say "Dickinson" or "Blake" you mean an ideal that hasn't yet been realized.

55. knmys - February 27, 2010 at 01:03 pm

If the author had it right,
And there is a glut of writ,
then begs the question, it just might:
who decides what poem's fit?

But the question that's much more real,
and the one that I do wonder:
Do poetry majors everywhere feel,
that their choice was a major blunder?

I do not know what of their incomes,
but I expect they lack the frills,
so the question thus becomes:
How the hell do they pay the bills?

Oh, that's right! They teach their courses;
forming thus the minds of young.
But when these kids become poem-sources,
much of their work still smells of dung.

But still the courses keep on flowing,
and not one student's turned aways,
and older poets keep on crowing,
about the end of "real poetry's" days.

So when these students write their work,
where is it supposed to go?
If not into a big-name journal or book,
how will people ever know?

If 'too many poems,' is what you measure,
then what, exactly, should be done?
If losing a poem is losing a treasure,
then isn't this game a zero-sum?

One less poem, one less 'gift'
and thus it harms society,
But ten more poems and you're pissed!
Don't they add variety?

"Publish more!" "No! Publish Less!"
Make up your mind, then let us know.
"Soon the art will be a mess!"
...But would anyone notice if this were so?

The last time I paid for a poetry book...
umm... give me a sec, it slipped my mind...
Ah yes! It was for that course I took.
The professor wrote it... it was assigned.

I thought his book was full of crap,
I found not one single rhyming verse,
It was then I realized poetry's a trap!
Meant only for poets to self-converse.

Because why should we buy any poet's letter?
And in the end, who'll buy his book?
Only so that egos can feel much better,
purchased by those his course they took.

So publish more! And publish widely!
Or, restrict the art, and increase its worth.
Don't just sit there whining idly,
while anthologies go and increase in girth.

Stop your teaching of poetry's classes,
nothing good will come to be.
The more you teach, the more who'll write!
Which means more competition for B.A.P.

So this is what I think is fair,
and The Chronicle should get right to it:
Publish a piece that's meant to scare.
Call it: 'Poetry major? Don't do it!'

And if a kid's still poetry bound,
and want to write with wit and grace,
take them aside, and sit them down,
then promptly punch them in the face.

56. jesuscrisis - February 27, 2010 at 07:35 pm

Thank you!

57. toskey - February 28, 2010 at 01:50 am

This article is tiresome, and the author popping in to defend himself in the comments and make snarky noises is amateurish.

He says Michael Neff of Web Del Sol says anyone can start a lit mag for free with a blog. But he doesn't tell us whether Neff thinks that is a good or bad thing.

He refers to Len Fulton's count of the number of literary magazines 50 years ago, but doesn't ask Fulton what he thinks about the state of poetry and publication today.

Both Neff and Fulton might have had interesting opinions. But all Alpaugh is interested in is Alpaugh's opinion.

So we get paragraphs of bashing of BAP and Pushcart. Yawn, indeed. Where have we read this before, and before, and before?

Alpaugh appears to know nothing of the really smart and small and independent world of literary blogs and magazines - print and online. His needle is stuck in the groove of an old LP while the literary world is cruising through computer screens, smart phones, and a still-vibrant world of print magazines with thoughtful and honest editors.

There's great stuff being published, and there's crap being published. News flash.

There are ways to identify good new poetry being published whether it is coming from established programs or just emerging writers. There are websites like newpages.com, htmlgiant, the rumpus, luna park... it goes on and on. But you won't get any good, new pointers from this article. It's just tired stuff from a tired guy throwing around piles of numbers that add up to nothing.

58. aldebaran - February 28, 2010 at 11:37 am


Where, exactly, is the author "popping in" to defend himself in the comments? I don't see him here. Under what name is he posting? Are you confusing me for him, since Aldebaran and Alpaugh both begin with the letter "A"?

Your reference to snark, in any case, is the pot calling the kettle black, since your own comment is nothing if not snarky and amateurish. Like most here, all you do is whine because Alpaugh wrote the article that he wanted to write, rather than the one that you wanted him to write. Your own peevishness ill serves you, if you wish to set yourself apart from "tired" old Alpaugh.

I would add that I do not necessarily agree with all of Alpaugh's points, and I think that he could have been clearer about the paradoxical problems posed by cronyist academic gatekeepers, on the one hand, and the spate of poetry being published where it will likely never be read, on the other. Intelligent criticism of this article would indeed be most welcome. Most of the criticisms of Alpaugh here, unfortunately, reflect mere hurt feelings, as well as a very superficial misreading of his article. What's the matter, folks? When Alpaugh mentions all the MFA-trained, third-rate poets who mistake themselves for great ones, do you uneasily recognize yourselves?

59. toskey - February 28, 2010 at 02:10 pm


My bad eyes. Only excuse is that I just came from another long comment thread on a very similar topic where the author was participating. Your comments in this thread were so similar in tone to the author, I made an incorrect connection (maybe?).

In any event, yes, 'aldebaran" does start with an "a"... as does "apologist." Which could more accurately been your screen name in this discussion.

Sure, he wrote the article he wanted to write. My point is that the article is tedious and tired. Those both start with a "t" by the way, since you seemed keyed in on that.

And maybe help me with this: how can you suggest that someone makes a superficial misreading of a superficial article?

But you go ahead and carry on with your tossing off creative new accusations like "cronyist academic gatekeepers," and "third-rate poets."

This article, and your lock-step comments, are nothing that haven't been written before. They add nothing to the discussion that really merits what you might consider "intelligent criticism."

60. chicagopoetry - February 28, 2010 at 04:07 pm

Thank you for this interesting read. You have touched upon a lot of points that are completely valid. When I was attending Columbia College in the mid-eighties getting published was such a rarity that when it happened it really said something about your work. Today, poetry publications are a dime a dozen and they are generally infested with what I can only call incestuous nepotism. The typical scenario goes like this: three or more friends print some stuff up on their computers, call what they are doing "poetry presses," publish each other and each other's friends and they create the illusion that they are the "best" poetry. And they must be, right? Because if you ask any one of them they will tell you so. And your friend is not going to tell you that your poetry sucks, right? The next step is to make friends with the guy or gal who works for The Reader or New City or Time Out, so that they will repeat the same bull. And then start up a few reading series and feature each other. It all becomes quite overwhelming after a while, all the publications, the press, the features. Next thing you know the celebrity syndrome kicks in.

The ease at which today's technology allows this to happen is definitely destoying poetry. Even though the “best” is relative to who you are talking to, before this technology came into being, at least what someone thought to be the "best" meant something that a poet had to work extremely hard to achieve. What we have created in the 21st Century is a big illusion. We've created so many presses, so many contests, so many organizations, and so many poets that we actually believe poetry matters to the average person. But if you step outside of the circle of friends who are sharing the fantasy with you, and you tell the average person that you are a poet, the most likely respose will be "What? Like a slam poet or something?"

The average run for a book of poetry from a little press in 200 or 400 copies. There are nearly three million people living in Chicago alone. Be aware of that math and you will stay grounded in reality and will be morely likely to create good poetry that millions of people will actually care about.

61. fglaysher - February 28, 2010 at 06:12 pm


Bravo! Another blast...

In my view, the current scene has lost the understanding of what true art is about, along with so much else. We no longer know what the ancients did, in all cultures, even more recently, which helped sift out the pretender from the true servant of the Muse.

I think your articles could even be improved if you'd be willing to reflect more on that...

Thanks for writing this piece.

A friend.

62. chicagopoetry - February 28, 2010 at 07:01 pm

The main technology that is killing the poetry industry (if you can call it an industry) is the ability to print on demand. I know of a few so-called imprints that do this. They announce their new titles for the year, often dozens and dozens of them, but none of them actually exist in book form beyond pdf files on their computers. When and if someone orders one, they print a copy up. When they display at bookfairs or festivals, perhaps they will print up ten or twenty copies of each, in order to create the illusion that they have actually produced a run. This is harmful to the legitimacy of the artform on many levels.

Before this technology surfaced and became so accessible, a publisher really had to believe in the quality of the work selected for publication, really had to believe that others would believe in it as well, that others would believe in the quality of the work enough to buy the books, so that the publisher could at least recoup the huge investment that had to be made in the printing the book. But today, a publisher doesn't necessarily need to make any investment at all. The publisher can "publish" practically every manuscript submitted, because if nobody buys it, nothing is lost except for some time designing the book. That publisher, to the amazement of all, can say, look, here are the ten or twenty books I am publishing this spring.

This is a practise that is unfair to legitimate publishers who actually believe in their titles enough to take the gamble and make an investment, because legitimate publishers usually can only afford to put out one or two titles at a time. The print on demand publishers create the illusion that they are doing more for the community, that they are more popular, that they represent a massive backlist, when in fact it's all an illusion. This practise hogs up all the manuscripts in town and keeps them from finding legitimate homes. It also creates an imbalanced power structure in the poetry scene, creating the illusion that this publisher or that publisher is some great big, influential house, when in fact it's all a con.

63. crestong - March 01, 2010 at 09:12 am

Well, first off, it's "Allen" Ginsberg, not "Alan."

Our local university used to bring in people like Robert Creeley, Robert Bly, Donald Hall, and Galway Kinnell for readings. But many budget cuts later we get minor, minor poets who teach at small schools. And I'm surprised to find I enjoy the readings much more. A certain genteel anxiety pervaded the big-name readings, the poet's humility notwithstanding. They required big cold lecture halls. Now the poets read in a small cozy lounge, relaxed, warm, human. There's tea and celery sticks. Maybe poetry should just be an easygoing, local thing after all. Maybe being a local gadfly with 400 books out is just fine. Maybe this is what the writing students should be promised! If such had been Ginsberg's fate -- if he'd ended up a clerk in a bookshop, reading at local coffee shops -- I believe he'd have found the joy in it. And if I miss the next masterpiece by the next Galway Kinnell, I'll get by. I've got my celery!

64. aldebaran - March 01, 2010 at 10:33 am


I am not fixated upon the alphabet; I was merely indicating your mistake in confusing me with Alpaugh, and speculating as to why you made it. At any rate, I am not Alpaugh, and there is no "maybe" about that.

I made clear where I differ with, or at least question, Alpaugh's article, so "apologist" doesn't work as a screen name for me, either. Sorry, but you'll have to go back to the dictionary or thesaurus and search some more.

"[...] your tossing off creative new accusations like 'cronyist academic gatekeepers', and 'third-rate poets'."

Thanks for the compliment about my creativity, but those are merely my encapsulations of what Alpaugh wrote, and not new "accusations".

"how can you suggest that someone makes a superficial misreading of a superficial article?"

Your premise (erroneously) assumes the validity of your conclusion, so I can't really help you there. It's obvious that your and others' reading of the article is superficial, because you either miss or distort the author's points.

"This article, and your lock-step comments, are nothing that haven't been written before. They add nothing to the discussion that really merits what you might consider 'intelligent criticism.'"

It seems to me that, at best, you have a stand-off, since you claim (without, however, citing any other examples) that Alpaugh has written nothing new, whereas your complaining clearly represents nothing new.

65. herzing - March 01, 2010 at 10:56 am

I am a poetry editor for a teeny-tiny press that's been around for about 10 years. I try to publish poetry that meets the requirements of our mission statement - "poetry of images." I send the little publication to people who want to read "poetry of images." I receive, however, *terrible* submissions by sometimes even worse poets who are rude, unprofessional, and even disagreeably aggressive. I simply respond, "Your work does not meet the needs of our mission statement." However, if I send too many of those responses, I don't get enough submissions into the journal to make it worth my time to send it out to my few subscribers. Therefore, I have to solicit. And to whom do I send my emails begging for submissions? My network of peeps, of course. They are (gasp!) MFA's who actually understand the process; read the submission guidelines, send what is asked in the way the editor wants it sent, and wait it out without sending nasty messages to the editor asking when they will know if their poem is going to be published.

66. hollyridge_press - March 01, 2010 at 12:42 pm

Once more the sky is falling. Let us dance.

67. chicagopoetry - March 01, 2010 at 01:14 pm

toskey vs. alderbaran: perhaps your energies would be better spent writing poetry

68. aldebaran - March 02, 2010 at 09:56 am


Thanks for the suggestion, but I am writing poetry, as well as upholding my end of the debate. I just wrote a haiku yesterday, as a matter of fact.

In all seriousness, I do want to add that I agree with those who say that this article does not offer a definitive analysis of its subject, but then, I do not think that that was its intention. I believe that the intention was to provoke thought and debate. The article has certainly succeeded in doing that, even if I question the quality of much of the thought and debate it has provoked.

69. bobshelby - March 03, 2010 at 01:40 am

David! A ton of thanks for making such a splash in the great river of literary anomie that flows ever more voluminously into the ocean of "Fill in your own words, so long as I like 'em." Poetry? We who committed to it decades ago, exerting ourselves to the utmost in attaining that intensity of intention which must ultimately result in works of polished, formal perfection and compressed richness of meaning, seldom see much of ourselves reflected in the storm-fraught surface of those waters. It does get frustrating. I, for one, am glad I stuck to writing poetry instead of teaching it. We and our friends have engaged in fragmentary discussions of the situation for long enough not to expect too much from either discussion or situation. In the end, we must tend our gardens and donate time to the vineyard (as you have done.) I trust that in the end we will have taught not by precept but by superb examples. Blessings & cheer!

70. ailisr - March 03, 2010 at 01:30 pm

Well, if there's one thing to be said on an article on poetry, it does elicit a more literate stream of comments than usual. Mostly thoughtful too - the usual contentiousness doesn't crop up until nearly 50 in.

Unfortunately, one thing was largely neglected by both article and comments: audience. One might argue that audience is neglected by poetry as well. This could be because the audience sucks - or, that most poetry does?

It is indeed quite possible that today's audience sucks, relatively speaking. During much of poetry's past, most people were barely literate, and the ones whose funds fed the flame of inspiration were highly educated, wealthy elites in need of diversion. Perhaps they have better taste than the mass audiences of today, but I doubt we want to go back to that scenario.

It is also possible that most of today's poetry sucks. This, of course, is nothing new - we merely have more of the bad stuff now than formerly. I submit that the only difference between past and present is the profound disconnection from most of today's poets from any kind of willing audience. This disconnection arises from the predominance of a vanity publishing industry funded not by readers but by writers' submission fees (most contests, "anthologies," and even many lit mags would fall into this category).

So the real problem is that so few poets are writing poetry that people actually *like,* therefore, they lack that requirement for immortality, an audience.

I suggest a two-pronged approach: one, fight for more thorough, flexible, and responsive education in literature at all levels; and two, anyone with any desire to be a poet (poor soul) boycott ANY publication requiring a submission fee, subscription, purchase of bronze baby-foot cast, whatever. Yes, I know it's easy, and yes, it does seem to be The Path set out for success it poetry - but who really wants that kind of success? Realize that it's the weak way to gain attention, and could even impede your ability to find authentic fans as you subconsciously mold your voice to appeal to a jaded and inbred few.

Also, please, dear God, don't stay in school past college unless it's in a non-literary field. You want to have something to write *about,* don't you?

71. chicagopoetry - March 03, 2010 at 04:57 pm

allisir, your proposed boycott would do nothing but hand poetry over the the wealthy elites. There is nothing wrong with supporting poetry presses financially. One way or another, the publication has to be paid for. Whether it be through taxes that support government arts grants or through the solicitation of friends to order advance copies, the poet often does pay. And what about self-publishing? Is there really any difference between paying someone else to publish your work and directly paying for it yourself? Most poets who make it anywhere in the poetry world start off with a self published book or two. Through what facts are you basing your suggestion that financially supporting a press that supports your work impedes your ability to find "authentic fans"? Somehow I doubt if you write the most dazzling poetry book of our time, that a publisher is going to reject it because you subscribe to a periodical that publishes your work. The problem is not those who chip in some money once in a while to keep the starving poetry world fed, but those who don't. There are some poets who are so arrogant that they think the publishing world owes them something. At least with a publication that charges a fee you know where you stand, and you aren't sitting around for a year waiting for the rejection letter, only to find out the editor gave the accolade to his best friend.

72. mr_mikey - March 04, 2010 at 12:06 am

One wonders (at least this one does) if the fact of the world population soaring from under 3 billion fifty years ago to well over 6 billion people today might have some influence in the "glut" of poetry? That is some math worth considering.

In my admittedly limited circle of friends, I find most people who have no or little knowledge of poetry respond quite favorably to it when invited to readings or when they are offered the chance to read a book or two.

I think its not lack of interest so much as it is lack of awareness or knowledge of poetry - good or bad - that limits the purchasing of and interest in poetry.

Perhaps we need to reinvent our academic approach to how we expose and educate our students regarding the value of poetry. I submit more would be gained in the early years focusing on contemporary, experimental poets that speak to the contemporary reader, and save the "greats" for analysis at a later date when further depth and understanding of the genre is needed and desired by the reader.

73. rdeprospo2 - March 04, 2010 at 07:21 am

I know. How about "The New Math of Commentaries on'The New Math of Poetry'"?

74. aldebaran - March 04, 2010 at 02:28 pm


"Mostly thoughtful [comments] too - the usual contentiousness doesn't crop up until nearly 50 in."

Since this little potshot is clearly aimed my way, I'll just take a moment to remind you that my "contentious" posts were precisely in response to the lack of thoughtfulness in the ones that vociderously complained about the article. Sorry if that muddies the waters for you, or makes it harder to assign white hats and black hats.

That said, I agree with you that a boycott of publishers that require submission fees is a good idea. So is the idea of blind submissions.

75. aldebaran - March 04, 2010 at 02:29 pm

*vociferously; sorry about the typo.

76. cpacosz - March 04, 2010 at 03:03 pm


This is a link to my essay "From the Back of Beyond: Women's Poetry Outside the Academy" which was written in response to a call for essays on this topic as a part of the First Annual Festival of Women's Poetry" November 2008, sponsored by the Women's Poetry listserv.

David Alpaugh hits the nail on the head in his article and it has been an affirmation for me to read what he says. He is in and of the academy, so his words have more weight, I think. People can dismiss my views as sour grapes. But there is something going on in Po Biz and it isn't good for the art in the long run. Thanks to David Alpaugh for being such an advocate for debate on what matters in poetry.

77. chicagopoetry - March 04, 2010 at 04:28 pm

Although I agree that "blind submissions" is the ultimate vaccine against "bad" poetry and nepotism, even though it is not 100% effective since in closed quarters we can recognize each other's voices merely by the writing, I must again urge against boycotting ANYTHING. The only things we should be boycotting in the poetry world are boycotts. Boycotts generally just lead to ignorance. In this case, you suggest boycotting anything and everything that requires a fee. There is a difference between boycotting something and simply not participating in it. In this case you not only swear not to participate in anything that requires a fee but you use the word "boycott" which suggests everyone else should follow in your footsteps. The most obvious questions are "why" and "what" would such a boycott accomplish other than hurting some very reputable poetry organizations.

For years I have published a periodical that requires a fee for participation. The fee goes directly toward the cost of publishing the periodical. The periodical is then given away free by the hundreds to anyone who wants one at large literary events. Rather than relying on the government or corporate sponsorship, and rather than sitting around with fingers crossed hoping someone will buy it, the poets themselves fund the project. I put my name on it as editor so obviously not all submissions are accepted. If I feel that the work doesn't meet the criteria of the publication, the poets gets the money back. You might think that charging a fee for being part of the project would encourage the submission of bad poetry, but on the contrary, I have found that for the most part only those with the highest confidence in their own work are willing to make a financial investment in the distribution of it, and the project has attracted submissions from published poets and first timers alike. Since the publication is distributed widely for free, the work inside of it is widely read, and getting published in it often leads to other opportunities when the work inside of it is discovered. The poets who participate in the publication do so not only because they want a poem published, but also to show support for my work in the field of poetry in general. It is a beautiful thing and it has received wide recognition.

Of course once in a while I run into some self-righteous poet who calls it pay-to-play or otherwise has something bad to say about it and who tries to ruin the experience for all involved. My opinion is, if you don't support it, don't submit to it, but why try to spoil it for those who believe in it? Sure, there are some really sleazy things in the poetry world as well, such as Poetry.com for example, but if you want to boycott something boycott the ones who are being unethical; don't lump the entire industry into it as if nothing on the face of the earth that relies on donations to exists can ever be legitimate.

78. nativepoet - March 04, 2010 at 09:39 pm

I am an indigenous poet from a small little island. People love my stuff. My partner is a poet too, but because s/he is not indigenous s/he cannot earn fellowships or book contracts like I do.
Oh you must treat me as your new poetry ruler, if you know what I mean?
To make the po-biz pay, claim that you are indigenous to somewhere....anywhere or that you are from the "borderlands of somewhere" people eat it up!!!!!
I'm not kiddin' ya'll.

79. niccoa - March 09, 2010 at 02:42 pm

Just like I don't believe in heroes, I don't believe in genius. I believe in community.

The long tail is everywhere, even poetry. The age of the elite creator is replaced by your neighbor the poet/journalist/insert-craft-here. Is there really a problem with anyone being able to write a poem? Soon, with 3-D printing, it won't just be "media" that anyone can create. Soon it will be anything - shoes, mobile phones, vehicles. (Think I'm crazy? Read this and this and this.) And then, once anyone can create anything, brands and elite notions of excellence will be obsolete. It will all come down to relationship -- to my neighbor (physical or digital) and my neighbor's work. We will really dwell in our communities -- be they geographical or otherwise. Personal relationships will matter -- and not much else. It's a beautiful chaotic day that is arriving / has arrived. Instead of lamenting the death of something ("The loss would be incalculable"), celebrate the creation of a radical new way of organizing the world. Burn the money, and the press used to print it. This is something completely different.

80. aldebaran - March 10, 2010 at 01:22 pm


The discussion here appears to be long dead, but I just want to say how fascinating it is to encounter someone, such as yourself, with whom I share absolutely no values, whatsoever, based upon your posted comments. I disagree with quite literally everything in your post, down to the last comma, and that, I hope, will suffice to refute your nauseating anti-individualist, quasi-fascistic* "communitarian" thesis. There will never be any community between the likes of you and me.

*So much for your "radically new way of organizing the world"!

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