Letter from Poetry Magazine

Letter to the Editor

by Barry Brummett
Dear Editor,

Poetry serves a community in need of an adjective. Several recent letters, commentaries, and editorials worry about whether "poetry" has become professionalized, why it is not more widely read, whether Garrison Keillor knows poems from pomade, and so forth. Look, there's no such thing as "poetry." There is hip-hop poetry, rock-and-roll poetry, slam poetry, greeting-card poetry—the list is long. This assertion is likely to provoke at least three reactions among the readers of Poetry. The first is to cry out, "Oh, but those examples aren't really poetry!" That complaint exposes the management of power done by claiming a valued term for one's own class, while at the same time denying such a term to unwashed others. A second reaction is to say, "But so much of hip-hop, slam, and the rest is really bad." So it is, but it is possible that some of what is published in these pages will not, shall we say, attain immortality. A third reaction is to claim an adjective for the poetry found here. "But this is serious poetry," or "academic poetry," or the like. Now we're getting somewhere: the nature of the claims made when people bewail, say, the declining popularity of "serious" poetry may be evaluated more clearly, especially when contrasted to the wild popularity of hip-hop poetry and its brethren. I think that until we get some more adjectives, these discussions will remain cloudy at best and disingenuous at worst.

Austin, Texas

Originally Published: October 30, 2005

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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