Why are All Poets Dead or Famous (or Both)??

Okay, so I hope to be living proof (along with many of my friends and students) that the title of this post isn’t true. However, I wouldn’t blame you for thinking it was true if your only source of information was an online bookstore. Just one example this morning, I went to Barnes and Noble, searching for information on a recent poetry collection, which I was able to find when I had the title or (I assume) the author’s name. But while there, I happened to click a link on the page to “This Season’s Best Poetry Books.” Sounds promising, right? It ought to bring up the latest, greatest of the poetry publications of Fall 2013, right? Not so fast…

Clicking that link led to a page with Homer (not even a new translation), Emily Dickinson, Pablo Neruda, Denise Levertov, and a collection of classic Haiku from the British Museum archives. Living poets included Billy Collins, Mary Oliver, Wendell Berry, and Nicki Giovanni. Nothing wrong with them, but they’re hardly the newest poets on the block. And Rita Dove’s Penguin Anthology of Twentieth Century American Poetry won’t give you a sense of the season’s best. The closest title to match the link title was Denise Duhamel’s Best American Poetry 2013.

I tried clicking on American Poetry to see if that gave me anything better. No luck. Hardly a living soul represented other than those on the list above. And I know from searching Amazon that the situation isn’t any better. Many brick and mortar stores aren’t much better at stocking recent poetry. Yet there are hundreds of new poetry collections introduced every season. So how can you find out about good recent titles?

If you live near a good independent, you might find it on the shelves or you might catch the poet when they are in town for a reading. I wish I had an answer — living in the hinterlands it can be hard to find out about culture of any kind. Subscribing to one or more good poetry magazines can help. Poets and Writers often has ads for new collections (and the prizes that sponsored their publication). If poets and poetry publishers want a bigger reading public, though, we need to do more to make those collections visible.

Published by Kendall Dunkelberg

I am a poet, translator, and professor of literature and creative writing at Mississippi University for Women, where I direct the Low-Res MFA in Creative Writing, the undergraduate concentration in creative writing, and the Eudora Welty Writers' Symposium. I have published three books of poetry, Barrier Island Suite, Time Capsules, and Landscapes and Architectures, as well as a collection of translations of the Belgian poet Paul Snoek, Hercules, Richelieu, and Nostradamus. I live in Columbus with my wife, Kim Whitehead; son, Aidan; and dog, Aleida.

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