Your April editorial on the current status of poetry in the US recalls in some ways Delmore Schwartz's address, "The Present State of Poetry," delivered in January 1958 and published later that year by the Library of Congress. What was present for Schwartz, of course, is now half a century past for us: where he could posit a poetry in "complicated transition," you are forced to consider a death of poetry in this culture, despite an apparently burgeoning well of poets, poetry prizes, and chairs of creative writing. There weren't so many poets teaching creative writing in 1958, to be sure, but they were as Schwartz notesteaching literature, themselves the latest voices in the centuries-long chorus of written art. Schwartz correctly points out what a tremendous shift that was from earlier generations, even from his own youth: the poet no longer had any need to see himself, or to be seen as, "a peculiar and strange being." He was instead "a useful and accepted member of society." More, he had "direct communication several times a week with what is known in advertising circles as a trapped audience." I'll let slide the connections that one might make between "institutionalized" poetry and advertising, but not the fact that the teaching norm that Schwartz saw in the late 1950s is not simply at variance with the poet's status in the past; it is also a far cry from what has developed in the decades sincethe difference between the poet teaching literature, presumably to the wide range of students who must take English as a college requirement and who may go on to become accountants, elementary school teachers, or doctors, and the poet teaching creative writing to elective students who want to be writers just as he is. Schwartz comments thatthrough gifted teachingstudents might temporarily become devotees of poetry only to lose their interest once, as working adults, they no longer have regular contact with poetry's missionaries. Still, it was at least possible that some of them might carry their collegiate interest on into their adult lives. But today's programs seem to create interest in poetry primarily among those who already want to write it. The poet whose audience is wholly other poets is trapped in a very small circle indeed.
Glenn Heights, Texas