Saturday, June 30, 2007

Are there American Poets?

From Jeannine Gailey's blog:

My new hairstylist had recently visited Chile with friends, one of whom offered to take her on a tour of Pablo Neruda's homes. We talked about how important poetry was to the culture there. Then she said, "ARE there any American poets?" And I said, "Yes, but they're all in hiding at universities."

This conversation led me to think that maybe all those studies showing people just aren't aware of contemporary poetry are right on. Perhaps poets should join an American Idol tour or something. Or we should create a show called "So You Think You Can Write..." My dream judging panel would be Louise Gluck or Margaret Atwood (for the strict one) Denise Duhamel (the bubbly one) and maybe Bob Hicok (the one who has the feel-good factor but says things that make very little sense.)

Would you watch that show?


This reminded me of something I heard yesterday while I was listening to one of the
Academy of American Poets (podcast) on my iPod. I know, I am so unhip in the world. But nonetheless, I'm well read.

Anyway, this poetcast was Sharon Olds talking about Muriel Rukeyser. Sharon said that Muriel told her when she was a student that no one *wanted* to read poetry--Sharon said that Muriel said it to enthusiastically that it sounded optimistic! Muriel continued, saying that what poets need to do is to write the poem that the reader *can't* put down, write something that won't allow someone to shut the book.

Are we writing poems that are compelling to read? What makes a poem one that you can't put down?

For me, I find myself putting down poems where the poet is too self-conscious or poems that I feel are too calculating. As much as I love Tony Hoagland, there are a few poems where I feel as a reader I'm just being manipulated--he knows his talent and his skill and I am the girl in the bar he is trying to work his magic on. I don't want the clever pick-up line, I want the gaze in crowd that makes me feel as if I'm the only one in the room.

Hoagland's early work in Sweet Ruin does this. He was a younger poet at the time. He didn't have the following, the fans, the groupies, now in certain ways, he's become a caricature of himself. Even the photo on his newest book, the one where he looks like the nutty professor, suggests this self-conscious image, this I'm-the-whole-package idea.

And know that I say with a little hesitation because Hoagland is one of my favorites and I think he's one of the poets that can reach out to a wider audience.
And mostly, his poems are ones that I can't put down, but occasionally there's a poem that becomes the creepy stranger who feels he knows me well enough to tell me about his eczema, who occasionally comes up with the cheesy line:
If I could rearrange the alphabet, I would put U and I together.


  1. So I guess there's a reason he has a book titled What Narcissism Means to Me.

    If I could rearrange the alphabet, I would put U and I together. Heh heh. Seriously?

  2. love the question, "are there american poets?" i hope to visit chile someday sooner than later. such reverence there for poets, like many other parts of latin america. once, in el salvador, i stayed next door to Claribel Alegria's niece...and the poetry was almost palpable.

    i like your panel of judges (gluck, et al) but i would worry would happen in FOX got a hold of poetry.


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