Young Americans: Sitting on their Hands on a Bus of Survivors
Over the last twenty years, this country has experienced a population boom of poets, thanks mainly to the Slam Movement and the proliferation of graduate creative writing programs. There are about 300 colleges and universities in the U. S. offering MFAs in creative writing. If you figure they have each cranked out two dozen shiny new poets each year over the last two decades, you have upwards of one hundred forty thousand "professional" poets to work the counters of an awful lot of coffee houses. And that doesn't include all those folks who decided they could do without a couple years of listening to their peers congenially disembowel their poems, nor the thousands of gifted amateurs, dabblers, dilettantes, pikers, poseurs, and haiku geeks.
There has been a lot of talk about this industrial-style production of poets homogenizing poetry in this country. It's argued that all these poets with their stamps of academic approval are all writing the same kinds of poems. These are well-wrought, rhetorically and theoretically sound poems that take no risks and break no new ground--in short, the kinds of poems that do well in workshops. If there is such a thing, I think the majority are easily culled from slush piles and the ones that see print become negligible little squeaks in the vast white wall of noise that is early 21st Century culture. The over-crowded field virtually guarantees that poems that don't stand out get stamped out. The fact is that the poets who are doing something new or are blessed with a distinctive voice do get heard. Take a look at the anthologies below. They are chockful of innovative and interesting voices. There is no standard-issue, cookie-cutter style poem that I can discern.
All this competition is good for poetry. It sharpens skills; it propagates cliques of like-minded poets who whip each other up into 'us against the world' frenzies and it forces poets to search hard for unexplored niches, slants and techniques. All of which, I think, gets me back to that odd little quote at the top: just as over-population in any species spurs mutation, today's poetry is exploding in new and interesting directions, exactly because there are so many young, talented, dedicated practicioners.
Full fathom five thy father lies / Of his bones are coral made / Those are pearls that were his eyes / Nothing of him that doth fade / But doth suffer a sea-change / Into something rich and strange. --Ariel from The Tempest
What I hope you take away from all this pseudo-Darwinian palaver is that there are many many young and bright people out there who not only see a future for poetry but are staking their own futures on it.
Below are a few new poetry anthologies from Harris County Public Libraries' collections.
American Hybrid: A Norton Anthology of New Poetry / edited by Cole Swenson & David St. John
American Poets of the 21st Century: A New Poetics / edited by Claudia Rankine & Lisa Sewell
Beyond the Frontier: African American Poetry in the 21st Century / edited by E. Ethelbert Miller
Legitimate Dangers: American Poets of the New Century / edited by Michael Dumanis & Cate Marvin
I'm pretty sure this isn't what he had in mind, but special thanks to Richard D. for his suggestion, for his research, and for letting me steal his idea for a title. Slightly-less-special thanks to the rest of you for reading. As always comments, suggestions and any other verbiage are appreciated.