Letter from Poetry Magazine

Letter to the Editor

by David Alpaugh
Dear Editor,

It is the mission of the Poetry Profession to turn the word “great” into a near obscenity and make certain (by controlling all the highly visible mechanisms of publication, recognition, and reward) that if there are great poets among us they never achieve what the profession so deeply fears—readership.

The last thing professionals want is for any poet to rise above the calculatedly competent, politically correct, but ultimately throwaway poetry nurtured by creative writing programs via the workshop/conference system. Hundreds of salaries of $60,000 to $175,000, supplemented by juicy prizes, fees, and traveling fellowships, are at stake. Keep your ears down, don't rock the boat, and everyone can end up selling 300 copies of that “award-winning” book from a university (or otherwise subsidized) press.

Daisy Fried is right that “bad poetry doesn't chase out good.” More pertinent to the debate, however, is Alan Williamson's closing line of a talk he delivered to a roomful of poets in Berkeley a few years back: “And always remember: the good poetry drives out the best.”

Pleasant Hill, California

Originally Published: October 30, 2005

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This prose originally appeared in the May 2005 issue of Poetry magazine

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