Prose from Poetry Magazine

No Antonin Artaud with the Flapjacks, Please

by August Kleinzahler
Good Poems, ed. by Garrison Keillor. Viking. $25.95.

Readers may remember how the U.S. military blared Van Halen and others at the Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega when he took refuge in the Vatican Embassy in Panama City during our invasion of Panama years ago. This method of rousting the wicked proved so successful that it was repeated during the recent Afghan experience, when heavy metal chart-busters were unleashed on caves thought to be sheltering Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters. The English Guardian newspaper reported last year that we were breaking the wills of captured terrorists, or suspected terrorists, by assaulting them first with heavy metal followed by “happy-smiley children’s songs.” The real spirit cruncher turns out to be the “Barney, I Love You” song played for hours on end. Even the most hardened, sadistic killers buckle under “that kind of hell,” or so asserted a reliable source. But if that fails to work, I suggest a round-the-clock tape of Garrison Keillor reading poems on his daily Writer’s Almanac show.

Now, had Keillor not “strayed off the reservation” and kept to his Prairie Home Companion show with its Norwegian bachelor farmers and Lutheran bake sales (a sort of Spoon River Anthology as presented by the Hallmark Hall of Fame), comfort food for the philistines, a contemporary, bittersweet equivalent to the Lawrence Welk Show of years past, I’d have left him alone. But the indefatigable and determined purveyor of homespun wisdom has wandered into the realm of fire, and for his trespass must be burned.

If it were up to me, I’d suggest we borrow the U.S. military’s tactics and lock Mr. Keillor in a Quonset hut, crank up the speakers, and give him an industrial-strength dose of, say, Albert Ayler saxophone solos until this “much beloved radio personality” forswears reading poems over the airwaves every morning. Ayler’s music is not a particular enthusiasm of mine. The late poet Ted Joans described Ayler’s solos as shocking as hearing someone scream “Fuck!” in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. But Garrison Keillor could do with a little Albert Ayler in his church, and church is what Keillor is all about. Everything that comes out of his mouth in that treacly baritone, which occasionally releases into a high-pitched, breathless tremolo when he wants to convey emotion, is a sermon. The homily runs something like this: we are good, if foolish and weak, and may gain redemption through compassion, laughing at ourselves, and bad poetry badly read.

Albert Ayler could only be a tonic for Keillor—a tonic we will force-feed him as they force-feed a goose in Perigord for foie gras—because Ayler’s art is opposite to Keillor’s shtick. Everything Keillor does is about reassurance, containment, continuity. He makes no demands on his audiences, none whatsoever. To do so would only be bad manners. Gentleness and good manners are the twin pillars of the church of Keillor.

Ayler is all about excess, anger, challenge, exploration, risk. Even when his improvisations fail, they fail bravely. His mission is to explode conventions and expectations. It would never have crossed his mind musically to be ingratiating or reassuring, or polite. Nor should it have done. That is not what music or poetry is for, especially in times like these. There is a passage from a William Carlos Williams poem, “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower,” dear to the hearts of those who would peddle poetry, or the idea of poetry, to the masses. I have heard it read on NPR in that solemn, hushed tone that is a commonplace among poetry salespersons, not least Mr. Keillor:

Of asphodel, that greeny flower,
I come, my sweet,
to sing to you!
My heart rouses
thinking to bring you news
of something
that concerns you
and concerns many men. Look at
what passes for the new.
You will not find it there but in
despised poems.
It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.

A pretty sentiment, to be sure, but simply untrue, as anyone who has been to the supermarket or ballpark recently will concede. Ninety percent of adult Americans can pass through this life tolerably well, if not content, eating, defecating, copulating, shopping, working, catching the latest Disney blockbuster, without having a poem read to them by Garrison Keillor or anyone else. Nor will their lives be diminished by not standing in front of a Cézanne at the art museum or listening to a Beethoven piano sonata. Most people have neither the sensitivity, inclination, or training to look or listen meaningfully, nor has the culture encouraged them to, except with the abstract suggestion that such things are good for you. Multivitamins are good for you. Exercise, fresh air, and sex are good for you. Fruit and vegetables are good for you. Poetry is not.

Especially most of what Garrison Keillor reads on his Writer’s Almanac, which, as a rule, isn’t poetry at all but prose arbitrarily broken into lines masquerading as poetry. The typical Keillor selection tends to be anecdotal, wistful: more often than not a middle-aged creative writing instructor catching a whiff of mortality in the countryside—watching the geese head south, getting lost in the woods, this sort of thing.

John Ash, writing of the brilliant, fellow English poet Roy Fisher, speaks of Fisher’s “rage, his refusal to be politely depressed.” There is a virulent strain of the “politely depressed” in American poetry. There are other, equally obnoxious and resistant strains, but the “politely depressed” is a pertinacious little bugger, and Garrison Keillor is only helping to spread it.

Poetry not only isn’t good for you, bad poetry has been shown to cause lymphomas and, in extreme instances, pancreatic cancer, in laboratory experiments. (I’ll have to dig around in my notes to find exactly what study that was. . . .) I avoid Keillor’s poetry moment at nine a.m. here in San Francisco as I avoid sneezing, choking, rheumy-eyed passengers on the streetcar, lest I catch something. But occasionally, while surfing for the news, I get bit and am nearly always sickened, if not terminally, for several hours.

Keillor means well. Of course he does. That’s his problem. His execrable Almanac begins with a few bars of hymn-style piano. And how could it be otherwise? We are in church. Garrison is ministering culture. A series of four or five capsulized, and trivialized, biographies of writers born on that same day follows: “Emily Dickinson was born on this day in 1830 in Amherst, Massachusetts. She wasn’t a picture, God knows, and was reclusive in her ways. She wrote small, puzzling poems that no one read until she was dead.” Keillor then proceeds to read a poem, of Ms. Dickinson’s, if we are lucky, or of one of his stand-bys like Billy Collins, if we are not. It doesn’t really matter. Keillor embalms whatever poem he reads within the burnished caul of his delivery, a voice one friend of mine describes as “probably taken out at day’s end and left to stand all night in a glass of bourbon.” Keillor then signs off: “Be well, do good work, keep in touch.” You bet, Garrison, I’m right on it.

I have little doubt that a Keillor staffer picks the poems for the show, a superannuated former M.F.A. from the Iowa Workshop would be my guess, one familiar with Keillor’s appalling taste, sentimentality, and the constraints of format. Keillor will deny this, as will his staff. But there’s no way he’d have the time, either to read poetry or even sift casually through volumes current and old, to choose an appropriate poem. He not only has his weekly radio show, he’s busy producing rotten books on what seems an almost seasonal basis. Also, judging by the introduction to Good Poems, a selection of poems from five years of those read on The Writer’s Almanac, Keillor is infatuated with the idea of poetry but knows and cares little or nothing about the art, what’s good, what’s bad, and how it’s made. But that doesn’t stop him, oh no. Keillor is all appetite, irrepressible, the hardest working “thoughtful person” in show business.

In his introduction to the collection, Keillor warns us:

The goodness of a poem is severely tested by reading it on the radio. The radio audience is not the devout sisterhood you find at poetry readings, leaning forward, lips pursed, hanky in hand [?!]; it’s more like a high school cafeteria. People listen to poems while they’re frying eggs and sausage and reading the paper and reasoning with their offspring, so I find it wise to stay away from stuff that is too airy or that refers off-handedly to the poet Li-Po or relies on your familiarity with butterflies or Spanish or Monet.

“So I’ll be feeding you mostly shit,” is what Garrison could well go on to say. No Antonin Artaud with the flapjacks, please.

Actually, Good Poems isn’t as bad as one might think had one been listening now and then to Keillor’s morning segment over the years. Its principal virtue is that one doesn’t have to endure Keillor’s poetry voice. But the range of the selections suggests more variety than the show customarily offers, and there’s a healthy dollop of Anonymous, Shakespeare, Ms. Dickinson, Burns, Whitman, et al. There are surprising and delightful choices I would never have credited Keillor in making (he probably didn’t) like Anne Porter, an excellent and little-known poet published by the now extinct Zoland Press. And the volume contains enlightened selections of the work of well-known contemporaries; I’m thinking here of a particularly good C. K. Williams poem. Of course, on balance, it’s a rotten collection I wouldn’t recommend to anyone, but it’s not so bad as it might have been.

Keillor is not the first to offer the masses reassurance and diversion through poetry on the radio. Edgar Guest (1881-1957) broadcast a weekly program on NBC radio from 1931 to 1942, and his topical verses were syndicated to over 300 newspapers throughout the U.S. in his daily “Table Chat” column. Known as the “poet of the people,” Guest published more than twenty volumes of poetry and was thought to have written over 11,000 poems, almost all of them fourteen lines long and presenting “a sentimental view of everyday life.” Guest’s Collected Verse appeared in 1934 and went into at least eleven editions. “I take the simple everyday things that happen to me,” Guest wrote, “and I figure it happens to a lot of other people and I make simple rhymes out of them.”

Are we not yet adult enough as a culture to acknowledge that the arts are not for everyone, and that bad art is worse than no art at all; and that good or bad, art’s exclusive function is to entertain, not to improve or nourish or console, simply entertain. And in this, Moby Dick or Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier” are not different than the movie Cat in the Hat or Britney Spears wiggling her behind on stage; the former being more complexly entertaining and satisfying, but only for those who can appreciate the difference, and they are the minority.

Let me quote from a lecture the British poet Basil Bunting gave in Vancouver in 1970:

Poetry is no use whatever. The whole notion of usefulness is irrelevant to what are called the fine arts, as it is to many other things, perhaps to most of the things that really matter. We who call ourselves “The West,” now that we’ve stopped calling ourselves Christians, are so imbued with the zeal for usefulness that was left us by Jeremy Benthem that we find it difficult to escape from utilitarianism into a real world.

In America, usefulness is indissolubly wed to profit, increased capital. Poetry is no exception. It is worth reflecting during National Poetry Month that creative writing, over the past forty years, has subsumed American poetry and become a 250-million-dollar industry, a rather seamy industry, and an off-shoot of the rather seamy Human Potential Movement industry. American poetry is now an international joke. And not just internationally: American novelists, non-fiction writers, scholars, the enlightened general reader who a generation ago read poetry as a matter of course, for pleasure, rarely attend to it anymore. Poetry is seldom, if ever, reviewed in mainstream journals like the New York Times, the New Yorker, Harper’s, the Atlantic Monthly, and when it is reviewed at all, it is reviewed in a cursory or inept manner.

Publishers will cheerfully volunteer—at least last time I checked—that poetry has never sold so well. Surely, never have so many written it and sought to publish it. I have every expectation that Keillor’s Good Poems is doing land-office business. It’s that kind of book and has the editor’s broad public appeal behind it. I expect Mr. Keillor’s morning show has legions of faithful listeners as well, who feel nourished and broadened by his daily reading of poetry, as countless Americans once felt about Edgar Guest and his more homely product.

But I, for one, have never in my lifetime seen the situation of poetry in this country more dire or desperate. Nor is the future promising. Cultural and economic forces only suggest further devastation of any sort of vital literary culture, along with the prospects of the very, very few—it is always only a very few—poets who will matter down the road. What little of real originality is out there is drowning in the waste products spewing from graduate writing programs like the hog farm waste that recently overflowed its holding tanks in the wake of Hurricane Isabel, fouling the Carolina countryside and poisoning everything in its path.

Let me put it starkly: the better animals in the jungle aren’t drawn to poetry anymore, and they’re certainly not tuned in to Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac. Just as the new genre of the novel drew off most of the brilliant young writers of the nineteenth century, movies, television, MTV, advertising, rock ‘n’ roll, and the internet have taken the best among the recent crop of young talent. Do you suppose for a moment that a spirited youngster with a brilliant, original mind and gifted up the yin-yang is going to sit still for two years of creative writing poetry workshops presided over by a dispirited, compromised mediocrity, all the while critiquing and being critiqued by younger versions of the same?

Boosterism of the sort Garrison Keillor participates in on The Writer’s Almanac will succeed in shifting more than a few books of poetry, not least his Good Poems, and in encouraging countless more people to write. But there exists a surfeit of encouragement of this kind in America at the moment, and there’s very little to show for it. The merchandising of poetry, or at least the slick, sentimental idea of it, is the problem, not the solution.

Allow me to conclude with a poem called “National Poetry Day” by the Scottish poet Gael Turnbull, which is timely and also reminds us that this sort of foolishness, though endemic in the U.S. of A., is not altogether unique to it.

“Transform your life with poetry”
the card said, and briefly I fussed
that this overestimated the effect
until I remembered how it had thrust
several old friends,
plus near and dear,
into distress and penury,
how even I, without the dust
of its magic, might have achieved
peace of mind, even success,
so maybe the advice is just,
not to be ignored, a sort of timely
Health Warning from the Ministry
of Benevolence
at the Scottish Book Trust.

Originally Published: November 14, 2005


On February 22, 2007 at 12:58pm Paolo Honorificas wrote:
Amusing take but trite. The writer is very clever though a little strident in his attempt to show us just how clever he is. The dead art may not be poetry but the essay. You can learn a great deal from bad poetry. I advocate being exposed to lot of bad poetry in order to realize just how special good work is. The article in question shows what can happen when the author attempts to write something amusing for others rather than writing something important for themselves.

On December 26, 2007 at 2:41pm Jim Klein wrote:
I, too, am not fond of Keillor; no more than someone from New York City really likes Seinfeld. Yet I would not call Mr. Kleinzahler nor his ilk poets nor writers any more than I would call H. Stern, well, anything other than a shock jock.

Poetry need not be vulgar to be real. Beauty did not die out with the supremacy of relativism.

On June 16, 2008 at 5:09am Alex Henri wrote:
In response to Mr. Klein's comment, a poem, from the poet and writer of this article (truncated due to constraint):

Watching Young Couples with an Old Girlfriend On Sunday Morning

How mild these young men seem to me now

with their baggy shorts and clouds of musk, as if younger brothers of the

women they escort in tight black leather, bangs and tattoos, cute little

toughies, so Louise Brooks annealed

in MTV, headed off for huevos rancheros

and the Sunday Times at some chic, crowded dive. I don't recall it at all this

way, do you ? How sweetly complected and confident they look, their faces

unclouded by the rages

and abandoned, tearful couplings of the night before, the drunkenness, beast savor and

remorse. Or do I recoil from their youthfulness and health ? Oh, not recoil, just fail to see

ourselves. And yet, this tenderness between us that remains

was mortared first with something dark, something feral, we still refuse, we still refuse to name.

-August Kleinzahler

On October 8, 2008 at 12:16am tyler wrote:
Mr. Kleinzahler is unbearably snobbish and represents precisely what is wrong with the way some people think about poetry.

He claims art is intended for entertainment and then proceeds to look down his nose at poetry that has, time after time, proven entertaining and meaningful to a large audience.

We understand you think you're very smart, we're not impressed.

On December 8, 2008 at 12:11pm M. Cross wrote:
No August in my Calendar This Year, Thanks.


your name


the claim.

Who do you


could be fed

by your being


Not the least

of which

I think

would be



in your essay,

the race



On February 5, 2009 at 10:27am chris jones wrote:
Kleinzahler is right. The only things

worse than Keillor's selections are his

readings. Even a fair poem is worse

for wear under his thoughtless


On March 3, 2009 at 1:30am Laura Anderson wrote:
What a wonderful piece. Can somone now start a Facebook group or two?

For instance:




(And while I'm at it, let me put in a plug for: "I'LL HEART LIFE WHEN TERRI GROSS STOPS WHINING AND SNIFFLING.")

Garrison Keillor. If you like him, you're in a delusion. He trades in snide sarcasm, yet you think you're particpating in Real Irony.


On June 1, 2009 at 5:22am Les Bell wrote:
"August for the people and their favourite islands". I particularly liked the poem Mr Kleinzahler quoted by Gael Turnbull, which cogently supports his theorem.

On August 11, 2009 at 5:23pm D.H. wrote:
The stench of elitism is overpowering, much like my latrine after a hearty Mexican meal....

On August 11, 2009 at 5:27pm John Stone wrote:
August shoot me an email i would like you to write a poem for me i watched you on bourdains show last night and i liked your twisted view on how you could write a poem about doing something so bad and turn it into something wonderful. i got it and in the moment it was amazing. hope to hear from you soon

On August 11, 2009 at 5:34pm John Stone wrote:
guess you need my email address to shoot me an email look forward to hearing from you

On August 12, 2009 at 3:06am Pinkhamster wrote:
The Bourdain appearance intrigued me as well. Was kind of expecting a jealous cheap-shot piece, but this was a well-reasoned and humorous essay. I've heard Garrison do interesting things at times on his other repetitive and comforting radio show, but the poetry programlet has always rubbed me wrong. This essay articulated why, which was helpful as I hadn't spent the time to figure it out myself, merely turning off the radio by instinct whenever it started to dribble from the speakers onto my shabby car seats. Had a much better time reading this than I've ever had listening to Garrison's poetry parade. Entertainment accomplished.

On July 22, 2010 at 2:43am Laura Corsiglia wrote:
For the record, Ted Joans loved Albert Ayler's music, with mad love. Poetry will never be caged inside wurlitzer corsettes.

On November 28, 2010 at 9:42pm Amanda P. wrote:
I like the point the author makes about how poetry isn't supposed to be good for you and it's meant for entertainment. Those who understand and appreciate poetry can seek it out and benefit from it, instead of having bad poetry pushed on the masses.

On November 28, 2010 at 10:14pm Christine wrote:
I agree with the statement that poetry is an art and only a select few appreciate it. Poetry is falling out and needs to be restored...somehow.

On November 29, 2010 at 12:51pm Anne M wrote:
Although Kleinzahler makes a convincing argument, his view seems incredibly snobbish to me. I agree that not every person will appreciate poetry, nor should they, but how will people appreciate it if never exposed to it? Keillor's poetry, regardless of its quality, exposes people to the idea of reading poetry, which may prompt them to look for more. And if the people that can't appreciate good poetry don't continue looking, then I say let them be entertained, even if you don't agree with how it's done.

On November 29, 2010 at 5:16pm Kelsy Westman wrote:
I found Kleinzahler's pretentious attitude difficult to get past. To me, this article was not about poetry being peddled to the masses, but rather, Kleinzahler's intense hatred of Garrison Keillor. But, ignoring Kleinzahler’s tone, I still mildly disagree with him. There's nothing wrong with reading poetry on the radio or writing it for the masses, if you feel like it. Even though I think poetry should be used as a tool for expressing oneself, who's to stop someone who writes poetry to sell it? And Kleinzahler's argument that art is not for everyone was just condescending. Even if someone cannot appreciate the complex and masterfully written verse of one of Shakespeare's plays, it does not mean they cannot enjoy listening to the actors speaking the words. Just as someone who cannot appreciate what can be considered a quality poem can still enjoy listening to poetry read on the radio, even if it’s poor poetry.

On November 29, 2010 at 11:20pm Anna M wrote:
I believe what the author said about poetry
that is being pushed on the masses is a
bad thing, if its bad poetry. We don't force
people to go to art museums why should
they be forced to listen to poetry?

On November 30, 2010 at 12:09pm KQ wrote:
I too think Kleinzahler is snobbish. He took
too much time ripping apart Keillor when
he could be making a more convincing
argument. Also, if the public wants to enjoy
bad poetry, let them! It's their personal
form of entertainment.

On December 1, 2010 at 12:00am Anna C wrote:
I agree that poetry is not encouraged in our culture. Our culture encourages entertainment and arts that are handed to us and that don't require us to think or process. But I think Kleinzahler's overall argument is lost because he is so focused on discrediting Keillor. Kleinzahler's argument seemed so petty and just made him sound whiney when the whole thing is just him complaining about how it makes him sick when he has to listen to Keillor.

On December 1, 2010 at 9:08am Catherine Kerwin wrote:
I appreciate the author’s opinion toward
Keillor’s outlook on poetry, however, at
times his argument seems presumptuous—
what evidence is there to back his claims
that Keillor “cares little or nothing about the
art [of poetry]?” The author criticizes
Keillor’s introduction to the collection,
though from my perspective, it seems
Keillor is simply trying to appeal to working
class Americans and strengthen people’s
interest in poetry. On the other hand, I
have to agree with the author when he
says, “the arts are not for everyone.”

On December 1, 2010 at 10:49am Luke Z wrote:

Ah so Mr. Kleinzahler likes to rant and rave. Got that out of this piece, not really much else. His argument isn't new, yes most will agree that poetry in the last few decades is not entertaining, but most can come to such a conclusion without the help of this article. Also this is quite reminiscent of something I'd hear on a talk radio show-- you know the one's where the host rants and raves about everyone else's incapability to do exactly the thing he cannot do himself. Ironic, maybe, more like pathetic. I wanted to sympathize with Kleinzahler, because I think the market approach to poetry is doing nothing but running it into the ground, but will you please give us, the reader, something more to grab on to. Won't you give us an argument rather than an inflated opinion. So you don't like Keillor, great, why should we care. If anything your pessimism is just as destructive to poetry today as Keillor's readings. If you want good poetry to return, then write it, because very few are. If you can't do it then well I advise you keep your mouth shut, or at least unpublished. You Mr. Kleinzahler are just as much a part of the problem as the rest of the lack-luster poets out there. Let the art speak for itself, entertain me, please.

On December 1, 2010 at 11:16am Melissa Bosshart wrote:
Poetry is an art, and as any other form of art, it will not be appreciated by all. Some may find it entertaining in passing, while others may be avid poety lovers. This being said, one cannot be forced to love an art form. One can be taken to a gallery and made to look at all sort of paintings, but that does not mean that any love for the art will come of it. In fact, it may have just the opposite effect. In my opinion Keillor is doing just that, forcing the masses into listening to something that they may never appreciate.

On March 23, 2011 at 2:05pm Unknown wrote:
Art is all-inclusive. Since when is it that a dog poo you go looking for finds you? God forbid the scent lingers upon your own nostrils. I love the complaints. It adds so much to the "information" one could gain rather than determining for themselves because... we all know where that gets us. Filters, please. Common sense, please. His work causes reaction and perhaps you've taken in slightly more personal than it really is. Its just there.
Like bills.
Untimely death.
Undeserved penalties.
And aren't we lucky :) Isn't life so....real.

On November 26, 2011 at 9:18pm Adam wrote:
Kleinzahler has taken an interesting stance. He seems to be against
the idea of packaging poetry in bulk like reading one poem after
another on the radio. However, he doesn’t seem to be totally against
the commercialization of poetry. He made fun of the idea that an MFA
student is probably telling Keillor what a good poem really is and
what it consists of. He mentions that poetry is like any other art form
and that it must be entertaining. Kleinzahler seems to suggest that if
poetry is to be commercialized it should not be blandly read over the
radio and the only people listening have it on as background noise
while they do something else around the house. In this way Keillor is
taking good poems and destroying the meaning behind them.
Instead, poetry should be marketed as entertaining, thought
provoking, and inspirational. The words in a well-written poem can
come alive to the reader if given the chance, but that will never
happen when the poem is read be someone with a monotone voice.

On November 27, 2011 at 1:49pm Anu wrote:
There are very few phenomenal poets whose words flow
effortlessly creating a masterpiece every minute. They
are the natural poets and Kleinzahler criticizes the
mainstream poets like Keillor whose composition
resembles prose forced to look like a poem. Kleinzahler
presents his criticisms in a humorous and direct way.
First, he starts out by announcing that Keillor's
'poems' can act as a torture weapon but as we continue
on, he focuses more and more on the 'poets'. He tries to
show us how the composers disgrace american poetry. So,
I think he should have focused more on the poems, rather
than the poets. Next, I agree that bad poems have driven
away the best 'animals in the jungle' and to generate
more enthusiasm and respect for poetry in the audience,
the talented or natural poets should be encouraged to
unleash the art inside them.

On November 27, 2011 at 8:45pm Kelsey T wrote:
I don't agree with Klenzahler when he says, "We are not yet adult enough as a culture to acknowledge that the arts are not for everyone, and that bad art is worse than no art at all." I think that everyone has their own opinions, and what is considered to be bad art for one person might be good to another. If we then had no "bad" art, someone else might be missing out.

On November 27, 2011 at 10:33pm Mitchell wrote:
I don't agree with Mr. Kleinzahler. He mentions that Garrison Keillor doesn't demand anything of his audiences, but it sounds like Mr. Kleinzahler wants poetry to be forced onto people. He says Garrison Keillor is too good mannered and too much like a gentleman. I personally don't like being forced to do anything. I just feel like Mr. Kleinzahler is arrogant and annoying.

On November 28, 2011 at 1:16am Krista wrote:
After reading this article, I came away with less of a sense of
the argument and more of a feeling of how much Kleinzahler
dislikes Garrison Keillor. It seemed as if Kleinzahler was
personally offended, and spent most of his time raging over
Keillor, with little jabs in between the actual points of his
Several of Kleinzahler's remarks were strong, but I found some
of them contradictory. He states that poetry should be
entertainment, but then rails on those who want more people to
appreciate that particular form.
Kleinzahler is clearly against the commercialization of poetry,
but maybe he needs to take a step back and realize Keillor's
book is more than just a collection 'shit.'

On November 28, 2011 at 10:52am Erin L wrote:
I don't like Mr. Kleinzahler very much. I feel like he comes off as arrogant and rude. I think that art is what the individual makes of it. Some people might consider one thing to be art, while another group does not. The same goes for "bad art", I think there is no such thing. Also, you can't really force anything on people. Poetry included. The majority of people do not enjoy things that they are forced to do, so Mr. Kleinzahler's tactics aren't going to make people enjoy and appreciate poetry very much.

On November 28, 2011 at 4:01pm Margaret wrote:
Kleinzahler contradicts himself and this weakens his argument. I feel
bad poetry/bad art is better than no poetry/art at all. The attack on
Keillor seems more personal than valid, they have different tastes. It is
more of a rant.

On April 15, 2012 at 6:24am Charis Varnadore wrote:
Since when do the MASSES listen to NPR? Anythng, any means, that celebrates poetry should be welcomed in these days of pablum TV and cinema based upon video games.

On April 22, 2012 at 1:15pm Sarah P.G. wrote:
Kleinzahler states that poetry is written for the
entertainment of the audience. Why then is Kleinzahler so
disgusted by the fact that some audiences might enjoy
Garrison Keillor. He may not be the most talented poet,
but if people enjoy his work then so be it.

On April 22, 2012 at 3:08pm Mikhayla S wrote:
Wow, sort of confused. Not sure if a person was being bashed here or just poetry in general...or both? Seems like a pretty angry guy here! But seriously, poetry is a type of a art, but it's not a popular art anymore or at least to most. It's not most peoples favorite and if you don't like something, it shouldn't be forced on you, it just makes it worse. Nowadays, the public is attracted to more "flashy" type of art like music, the example about Britney Spears or rock-n-roll. It's more entertaining and appealing and doesn't take much thought. Poems take a deeper type of thinking and this fast-paced lifestyle Americans live, I don't think they have time. Also, it's harder to get rich and famous by writing poetry, like the example about Emily Dickenson. He described her as a recluse whose stuff only got famous after she died. Who wants to be known like that?

On April 22, 2012 at 6:04pm Lindsey Joens wrote:
I agree with the article. I don't think that people should have to like poetry at all let alone bad poetry. But I do disagree with what he calls "bad art" because what is bad to one person might be good to another.

On April 22, 2012 at 6:51pm Bailey Kraft wrote:
"Multivitamins are good for you. Exercise, fresh air, and sex are good for you. Fruit and vegetables are good for you. Poetry is not."
This passage from Kleinzahler's article upsets me the most! I do not agree with a word that is being said by him. Poetry is a form of art, and one person can truly appreciate it while another my dislike it. What Keillor believes to be a "Good Poem" is obviously different then Kleinzahler's opinion but I believe that this article is way to bias to pull any creditable information from. Poetry is not "bad" for someone's health. I strongly dislike this article.

On April 22, 2012 at 10:43pm Jeremy Danover wrote:
I agree with Kleinzhaler in the fact that the best poets seem to no longer be attracted to poetry as much as they used to be becuase most of the good topics in poetry are talked about way too much, which is why poets need to start writing about things they have experienced in life.

On April 22, 2012 at 11:49pm Michelle P. wrote:
Kleinzahler spends this article complaining about how
awful Keillor's poetry is and how it should be used as
torture, but honestly no body is making him listen to this
guy... So instead of complaining maybe he should just
listen to something else. There might be people out there
who enjoy his poetry so let them listen an enjoy what they

On April 23, 2012 at 12:11am Nolan M. wrote:
Although the definition of what is considered poetry may be a looser one, I think it is hard to define what is bad poetry because typically poetry has different values to different people.

On April 23, 2012 at 9:52am Samuel Rowe wrote:
You have to go for it! You can't worry about pleasing each and every
person out there. People are so worried about being politically correct all
of the time. You gotta write what you feel to the max and that style of
writing at least will have emotion.

On April 23, 2012 at 10:49am Eric Hof wrote:
Poetry is meant to be open to interpretation and people can like the
poem are not like the poem that is the life of art and writing. So
Kleinzahler has the right to disagree with the Poem but he does not
need to trash it but allowed to have an opinion. I think he just need to
see the since he doesnt like it that doesn't mean other people feel the
same way about it.

On April 23, 2012 at 10:58am Andrew Schnoebelen wrote:
Once again, the topic of poetry's decreasing popularity is brought to
light. If poetry really is as bad as Kleinzahler says it is, by bringing up
Keillor's "torturous" poems, then maybe she should stop complaining
about poetry and do something to change it. Instead of writing about
bad poetry, she could easily write about good poetry, which would
hopefully spark peoples' interests and cause poetry's popularity to

On April 23, 2012 at 11:48am Derek wrote:
I thought the points Kleinzahler made about culture and economics within poetry were particularly interesting. The fact that our current society does not accept poetry draws young poets away from MFA programs and encourages them to pursue higher profile careers. The brilliant minds of today do not want to spend their young careers sitting in poetry programs. Also, there is little money to be made from writing poetry, so talented young writers seek careers in other occupations. This economic aspect likely contributes to the lack of quality contemporary poetry produced today.

On April 23, 2012 at 11:53am Alec Darrow wrote:
"What little of real originality is out there is drowning in the waste
products spewing from graduate writing programs like the hog farm
waste that recently overflowed its holding tanks in the wake of
Hurricane Isabel, fouling the Carolina countryside and poisoning
everything in its path. "
-I agree with with Kleinzhaler to a certain extent. Most true originality
comes from everyday people, and not always from college writing
programs where writers are more "developed" then "original" or
"individual". But with todays advancements with technology its harder to
find some people with that creative originality.

On April 23, 2012 at 12:05pm Megan Tentinger wrote:
Kleinzahler is correct when he rants about how poetry today is dead, but
its not dead for everyone. There are still people that enjoy poetry even if
it is not a popular art form today. There needs to be a change in poetry
if people want to get a bigger audience, but if not then the die hard
poetry fans will still be there.

On April 23, 2012 at 12:10pm Drew M. wrote:
I feel that he spends more time sarcastically bashing Keillor than he actually does explaining what he wants in the poetry. Despite how much I laughed at the author's sarcastic tone, his point about good or bad poetry doesn't really seem to get made.

On April 23, 2012 at 12:11pm Will C wrote:
August Kleinzahler complains about Keillor's poetry readings the entire piece, if Kleinzahler doesn't like it no one is forcing him to listen, who is to say some people out there don't like Keillor's readings. Poetry is different for everyone and its an opinion whether you like a piece or not no one can define good or bad poetry.

On April 23, 2012 at 12:17pm Felipe Carrasco wrote:
I thought the most accurate argument/comment Kleizhaler makes regarding the status of contemporary poetry was his claim that most people, especially in the younger generations, simply aren't inclined to seek out poetry in their lives. As poetry is no longer a mainstream attention, many are never really exposed to it. Thus, with little exposure, it is understandable while most don't see poetry as good for oneself, like we do, as Kleizhaler includes, "vitamins...exercise, freshair..." More than anything, it may be these cultural dynamics causing contemporary poetry's struggles.

On April 23, 2012 at 12:19pm Zach Leidigh wrote:
I agree with KLEINZAHLER's point that the young brilliant
minded kids that would have the potential to become the
next poet prodigy are not being appealed to. They do not
want to have to be critiqued and be called average in
writers workshops they would rather just take their
talents elsewhere. In the 20th Century things were
different and people thought being a poet was prestigious.

On April 23, 2012 at 1:05pm Andrew S. wrote:
I believe that Kleinzahler is doing nothing more then expressing his
dislike ,not only for Keillor's poetry, but for poetry in general. I agree
that poetry is not as prevalent in todays age as it was many years ago,
but he is trying to completely deface it. He over exaggerates the
negatives of poetry and even goes so fat as to compare it to torture. Not
a very convincing argument.

On April 23, 2012 at 1:08pm Sean D wrote:
Kleinzahler insists that good poetry no longer exists. But today's "good" poetry is all around us in many different forms. As Kleinzahler himself acknowledges, today's bright young poets have moved into different fields (such as music and movies) in order to escape the literary cloning machines that are MFA programs.

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This prose originally appeared in the April 2004 issue of Poetry magazine

April 2004


Audio Authors
 August  Kleinzahler


Often described a “pugnacious” and a “pugilist poet,” August Kleinzahler’s reputation rests on his jazzy, formally inventive and energetic poetry, though he has also garnered notice as something of a bad-boy literary outsider prone to picking fights with the establishment. Hailing originally from Fort Lee, New Jersey, and a long-time resident of San Francisco, Kleinzahler’s fame as a colloquial poet of “dive bars, greasy soup, . . .

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