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Brad Leithauser
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The prospects for American poetry may look highly uncertain. But one thing can be said with assurance about its future: whatever happens, poets will be sitting around lamenting the present state of American poetry. I may well be one of them. In the decades since I began to publish (my first book appeared in '82), one unsettling development seems to have followed another. Chief among these is the disappearance of many poetry publishers--but there's also the disappearance of various magazines, and newspapers, and a slow strangling of reviewing space, etc. Discussions about the direction of poetry (whether it's a couple... Continue reading
Posted Jan 23, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
Marianne Moore has my vote for the Most Exciting of 20th-century American poets. This would be an award related to but distinct from Most Painfully Underrated (John Crowe Ransom) or Most Consistently Splendid (Elizabeth Bishop) or Most Dangerous to Imitate (e. e. cummings) or Most Valuable on a Daily Basis (Robert Frost). Moore did something poets almost never have the opportunity or ability to do: she invented a whole new architecture, a new and describable prosodic system. You could argue that two poets did this in the 19th century: Gerard Manley Hopkins and Walt Whitman. But with these two marvelous... Continue reading
Posted Jan 22, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
"Make it new!" Ezra Pound urges, leaning imposingly toward you, and you nod knowingly back at him. But the two of you are sitting in a packed bar in the East Village at Happy Hour, and it's a little hard to hear. "Make it nude!" is what you think the old poet is exhorting, which sounds like solid advice, at least in theory, but you're not sure how it applies to you as a young poet. ...Easy enough if only you were a painter. Take the clothes off the model! Or if you were a novelist, or, better yet, a... Continue reading
Posted Jan 21, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
{Today's topic is acceleration. For a schedule of my week's blogs, please go to the first of them--Jan 17.} In college I took a year-long survey of British literature in which I probably learned a lot--I had much to learn--though only one classroom moment has stayed vivid in my memory. I recall my professor declaring that Byron's Don Juan may be the quickest poem in the language. This seemed right to me then, and seems right to me now. If true, it's a deeply ironic truth. Quick? But doesn't quick imply small? And the poem is so vast, it takes... Continue reading
Posted Jan 20, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
It stares back at you, that singular and signal creature: a poem on a page. What is the very first message it conveys? For it seems you're somehow already in touch with it, even before you've read a word, before you can begin to identify just what sort of species it is. I'm tempted to say the initial message of any poem is Pay attention. Yet this isn't a particularly distinctive or interesting message. Pay attention is what the distant flashing sign on the expressway tells you at the outset, while you're racing toward it but cannot yet decipher its... Continue reading
Posted Jan 19, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
Years ago, somebody told me that Marilyn Monroe once remarked that she liked reading poetry because it "saves time." I've never confirmed that she actually said it. If she didn't, I hope no one ever disabuses me, because I'm fond of quoting her. Though Marilyn may surface in a conversation for any number of good reasons, there's something wonderfully, cheeringly unlikely in invoking her for her wisdom. It's a wise remark, in any event. Poetry saves time... Whoever first uttered the phrase was on to something. It has the rightness of an observation that deservedly turns into a maxim. And... Continue reading
Posted Jan 18, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
Spontaneity has its time and place--but maybe not now and maybe not here. For poets, anyway, it's usually an overrated virtue. I suppose this is one reason I've always so envied jazz musicians--their world where improvisation flourishes. For them, the off-hand has the upper hand. But attempts by poets to utter extemporaneous poetry are almost always unmemorable--at least, if we're lucky we won't remember them. And I think the same is usually true when poets, whether on workshop panels or in classrooms or in blogs, speak on-the-spot about their craft. Where poetry's concerned, the thought worth saying is typically the... Continue reading
Posted Jan 17, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
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Jan 17, 2010