Tuesday, January 04, 2005

I am a reader, and occasional purchaser, of contemporary poetry. That puts me in a group no larger than holding capacity of your average college stadium. Now if you wanted to gather the people who write poetry together, you would probably have to lease every facility in NFL for the weekend. But those of us who simply read, without being "in the business" as it were, are a vanishing small minority. If you doubt it, keep in mind that the average press run for a volume of new poems is in the range of one thousand to three thousand copies. The current estimated population of the United States is, as I write this, 295,186,847. You work out the percentage of the American public which can be expected to buy a new work of poetry. Nonetheless, poetry is one of the things I love, and I do my best as a reader and book buyer to support the work of living poets I admire.

The reason I bring this up is the book sitting on the top of the bedside reading shelves, The Best American Poetry 2004, courtesy of the local library. Every year, I helplessly pick up the latest installment in the series, drawn like Charlie Brown to Lucy holding that football. Every year I end up sorting through line after line of solipsistic nonsense by folks who seem actively hostile to the sound and rhythms of speech in English. Ah, but hope springs eternal. I will let you know how it goes with this year's volume, and will follow up with a list of a few contemporary poets I do enjoy.

In the meantime, you could do worse than spend some time with Dana Gioia's website. Beside being the current chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, he is also a fine critic and poet in his own right. While you are there, be sure to read his 1991 essay, "Can Poetry Matter?"