Thursday, April 23, 2009


Poetry Everywhere is PBS website featuring what we'd call the Usual Suspects whenever a corporation or institution decides to pay tribute to what is generally treated as the bastard child of the arts. Their roster of talent, highlighted across the top of their web site, holds no surprises; there's no one to make you scratch your head and wonder. Sharon Olds, Billy Collins, ark Strand, it's all rather cozy. Videos of over exposed poets reading blandly, bloodlessly. The embalming of the muse continues. I wrote this on their sight when they invited folks to pose some questions the producer. No replies just yet. The remarks, presented below, are cleaned up and expanded from my original thesis, and that's alright--refusing to have one's tastes pickled in aspic should be something all of us should speak at length to. The fate of one's sanity depends on it:

I would say your selections are good for the particular style they represent, an intensely biographical narrative style that continually reveals a life's lesson that generally defeats the narrator's expectations. Monotony is the culminating effect, and poets highlighted here come to resemble the sort of constant whiners and complainers you avoid in everyday life. It would appear American Poetry is a slim side road and not a Great Highway, and that only a very few writers qualify for admission--interestingly enough, it seems a rigged game, with these writers being the same ones who get their books reviewed , win prestigious awards and have their poems anthologized in major collections. We know, in fact, that there is an intensely interesting diversity in American poetic life, and one is left to wonder whether you have the willingness to substantially expand your selection process.

At this point it would seem natural that poetry readers and poets themselves would be bored with recycling the same platitudes and tropes and rusty arguments concerning the post-Confessional defeatism Poetry Everywhere prefers and would prefer, demand even a spicier, more compelling buffet to graze upon. As is, too many of us in positions to actually bring more styles and arguments into the mode instead remain in the old neighborhood of deep sighs, gutless irony and the phonied up zen moments that make starting and ending a poem an easy thing, a formula that becomes disturbingly similar to the perfectly competant writer who can produce column copy by the hour and still manage not to offer a thought that makes you think through an ambiguity's nettlesome challenge to our collective thinking. Why have surprise, goes the assumption, why make things that are nice so unfamiliar, filled with strange perspectives and voices with accents and intonations that are different than our our own? Again, it's remaining stuck in one's location,not moving , not adding a book to the shelf; the upside is that one can always find their way home by the shapes of the old houses and storefronts, the same old landmarks. The downside is that you know how the poems are going to end, more or less, variations on the same scales, played real fast , medium tempo, or death dirge, but the same scales, the same half melody all the same.

The question, I suppose, is whether you intend to become bold and seek to really discover what poets are doing in this country, or if you will continue to highlight the over reviewed, the over praised, the over exposed?

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