2000-2009: The Decade in Poetry

How has poetry changed in the past ten years?
By The Editors
A decade of poetry.

The past ten years have changed poetry in ways that have shocked and delighted even the most forward-thinking readers and writers. Online communities have flourished, dominant paradigms have shifted, and readers have found new solace in traditional forms. Poetry—and poetry communities—will never be the same. We asked poets and critics whose work has had a wide influence over the art form to describe the poetry “event” that most shaped their view of the decade. They focused on events both private and public, and their responses reveal that poetry in the new decade will continue to be a living, breathing, and ever-changing thing.—The Editors


Matthew Zapruder:

In the weeks after the 9/11 attacks, there were, as we remember, public gatherings all over the country. People instinctively and correctly had the idea that we needed to be together as a group, as Americans, in order to begin confronting what had happened. From a poet's perspective, what was so striking to me about these gatherings was how they seemed to inevitably turn towards the public recitation of poetry. Songs, speeches, sermons: All these typical public uses of language were obviously inappropriate, as was simply sitting together in silence, which would have been too lonely. Once again, as always, we needed speech that simultaneously countered great silences while acknowledging them. It was as if suddenly everyone remembered—even if, and in fact precisely because, no one could say exactly why—that poetry could do something no other form of language could. Poetry is a kind of realism in the face of the sublime. Poetry acknowledges the impossibility as well as the need to say that which cannot be said. I think this quality of poetry is in itself a very necessary political statement, because it does not allow for, on the one hand, simplifying and ultimately crushing rhetoric, or on the other hand, a sanctimonious retreat into nihilistic minimalism. The public need for poetry after 9/11 was a great call to action for American poets.


Annie Finch:

The last decade saw a dramatic increase in women’s presence on the poetry scene as women, both in the US and elsewhere. While there is still plenty of "Numbers Trouble," the very existence of that notorious 2007 essay is part of a notable change. During this period, women poets began more than ever before to gather and converse together online and in person; to publish, edit, and review; to revise poetic history and theory; and to organize for action—all, explicitly, as women poets.

In 1999, my nursing a baby at a conference on contemporary innovative women’s poetry at Barnard, “Where Lyric Meets Language Poetry,” occasioned public thanks from a beleaguered woman panelist. By 2008, nobody would have given it a glance; “poet-moms” were everywhere, and the atmosphere at the two major conferences on women's poetry that year, “Why Study Women’s Poetry?” at St. Francis College and “Lifting Belly High” at Duquesne University, was palpably woman-friendly. Along the way, the WOM-PO listserv burgeoned from a small handful to nearly a thousand subscribers, and other listservs and online communities focused on women poets, such as Formalista, Poet-Moms, and Pussipo, started.

Jane Dowson and Gilbert and Gubar have pointed out that for generations women poets renounced and ignored the women poets before them. During the last decade that pattern seemed to change as, in new physical, textual, and virtual spaces, women poets increasingly took control of the development and maintenance of the canon and poetic tradition. The two 2008 conferences spanned aesthetics, reassessed women poets from past centuries, and honored pioneers in the field. The decade saw the publication of groundbreaking books such as Kristin Prevallet’s Helen Adam Reader, Elizabeth Alexander’s Essential Gwendolyn Brooks, Elizabeth Frost and Cynthia Hogue’s Innovative Women Poets, Joyce A. Joyce’s Conversations with Sonia Sanchez, the reissue of Alicia Ostriker’s The Mother/Child Papers, Eva Salzman and Amy Wack’s Women’s Work, and Arielle Greenberg and Rachel Zucker’s Women Poets on Mentorship. Two major biographies of Edna St. Vincent Millay appeared in 2001, bringing that bellwether poet to a level of chic-ness unprecedented since her death; she has even been showing up in music, from cabaret  to a punk tribute by Meatyard.

Perhaps reinforced by such groundbreaking contact with their poetic roots, women poets have begun not only to reexamine assumptions about poetics, but to take assertive action on behalf of women’s poetry. Online communities helped raise awareness and solidarity internationally around controversial events such as the 2005 murder of Afghan poet Nadia Anjuman, apparently for the crime of writing poetry while female, and the sexual harassment charges against a 2008 candidate for Oxford poetry professor. It is fitting that the decade ended with online journal of women’s formal poetry Mezzo Cammin planning an ambitious women’s poetry timeline with a launch at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington DC this spring, and with poets Erin Belieu and Cate Marvin founding Women in Literature and Literary Arts, an organization whose professionalism and media savvy promises to build the power of women’s poetry and poetics in the next decade.


Ron Silliman:

Poets blogging is just a symptom. The decline of indie bookstores, including the closure of such stalwarts as Cody’s & Shaman Drum, is just a symptom. The slow, painful death of newspapers, most of which have already tossed their book review sections and literary critics overboard, is itself just a symptom. The collapse of academic literary journals—viz. TriQuarterly, Southern Review, and Poetry Northwest, three of my first publishers—is just a symptom. Trade publishers openly speculate that they may be next, and even universities are starting to fear that their turn may be coming. They’re right.

Just as MFA programs have pumped the number of poets writing and publishing in the United States up from a few hundred a half-century ago to tens of thousands today, the major institutions that not only embodied all of this activity but served an important (if hotly contested) gate-keeping function are now all being undermined or transformed by the ongoing revolution in communications technology. The poet’s relationship to his or her audience is undergoing a profound transformation. The poet’s relationship to the institutions and even to the tools of her or his practice is doing likewise. Everything is up for grabs.

Some poets have chosen to embrace the new with everything from flarf to technology-based visual poetries. Others have decided that the “timeless” values of tradition will outlast even this. They recall and sometimes reiterate the archaeologist’s maxim that ultimately, hard copy is truth. If you can’t dig it up in 5,000 years, did it ever exist? Ian Hamilton Finlay, with his stone-carved minimal texts, may outlast us all.

What’s apparent is that (a) this joyride isn’t over, and (b) we’re all in this together. When I realize that any chapbook publisher with a Blogspot page and PayPal account can sell directly to readers worldwide, I feel hopeful. I just hope we can find time to read & enjoy this great bounty. 


Rigoberto González:

Herrera’s co-win (it was a tie with August Kleinzahler) in 2009 of the National Book Critics Circle Award marked a milestone for U.S. Latino letters: it was the first time a Chicano/Latino poet took home one of three major industry prizes (I include in this distinguished company the Pulitzer and the National Book Award). The recognition was long overdue for Herrera, arguably one of the most influential voices in the Chicano literary community. Half of the World in Light, published by the University of Arizona Press, was a new and selected volume that spoke to his prolific 30-year career. But his poems, besides highlighting his skills as an inventive intra-linguist and word acrobat, also provide an important timeline of Chicano political history and social activism in this country.

The co-win might have appeared a diluted victory to some, but Herrera’s name traveled throughout Latin America (partly because the winner of the NBCC Award in Fiction that year was 2666 by the deceased Chilean novelist Roberto Bolaño—the pronouncement of the two names gave a semblance of a double whammy). In any case, the award renewed national interest in a poet who has been around this entire time as an educator, mentor and small press author.

It’s important to clarify that Herrera (or any other Chicano/Latino poet) doesn’t need an award to write or to validate the presence of U.S. Latino letters within the expansive American landscape, but his win was still a proud moment for the Chicano/Latino community. If anything, the community’s members (present company included) usually gripe when any award finalist list is released and no “writers of color” are included. (Note Luis Alberto Urrea’s recent cyber-tirade on the lack of representation at the National Book Awards: Does NBA stand for “No Beaners Allowed”?) All of the NBA winners this year, by the way, were white men.

Will Herrera’s win change the way Chicano/Latino writers are read or received in this country? We certainly like to think so, but experience has taught us differently. Did anything change after the Cuban-American Oscar Hijuelos won the 1990 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love? The next, and second-ever, Pulitzer in literature awarded to a Latino went to the Dominican Junot Díaz, eighteen years later. While I do hope we don’t have to wait almost two decades for the next Chicano/Latino poet to receive an industry nod, I also expect many of us are not going to hold our breaths, but will continue to celebrate Chicano/Latino writers on our own terms. In the meantime: Mazel tov, Juan Felipe Herrera!


Marjorie Perloff:

The Arizona Symposium on Contemporary Poetry is held annually on the University of Arizona campus at Tucson. When Frances Sjoberg, then Literary Director, invited me to curate the 2008 event (hard on the heels of the 2007 Native Voices Symposium), I knew only that I had been given the opportunity to invite a good mix of cutting-edge poets. The title of the symposium, Conceptual Poetry and its Others, was framed partly in response to Craig Dworkin’s Ubuweb Anthology of Conceptual Writing, which had created quite a controversy. But the poet-speakers—Caroline Bergvall, Charles Bernstein, Christian Bök, Craig Dworkin, Peter Gizzi, Kenneth Goldsmith, Susan Howe, Tracie Morris, and Cole Swensen—certainly represented a variety of positions. Each was asked to lead a 75–90-minute “break-out” session on teaching, writing, or scholarship; to participate in a group poetry reading; and to serve on a panel discussion on the symposium theme. In addition—and this was Frances’s idea—we issued a call for applicants to participate in a round table discussion on Conceptual Poetry. Those chosen were offered free room and board, and were to give their own 15-minute presentations.

The round table—we ended up having two, with eight speakers at each—turned out to be the greatest surprise. We had dozens of submissions from around the world: The final panels included, among others, conceptual critic Graca Capinha (Coimbra, Portugal), poet and art critic Wystan Curnow (New Zealand), conceptual poet Vanessa Place (Los Angeles), and the editor of the famed Scandinavian visual poetry journal OEI, Jesper Olsson. The round table participants could easily have themselves led break-through sessions, as could members of the audience, like the New York poet Robert Fitterman. The poets were partly chosen for their reputations as performers, and they exceeded expectations. Unfortunately, Peter Gizzi and Susan Howe couldn’t come at the last minute, but the others gave truly original and varied presentations, and the debate—always before a packed auditorium—was often quite heated.

Did we learn what Conceptual Poetry was? Tracie Morris calls herself a “musical” or sound poet; Christian Bök is best known for his constraint-based Eunoia, but, as Charles Bernstein put it, “The absence of conception had itself to be conceived.”  I think the poets, students, professors, and members of the Tucson community were excited because they were hearing genuinely different work—work new to them—and each poet had taken a great deal of trouble to prepare his or her break-out session. Regular and visiting faculty members from Arizona—Tenney Nathanson, Carlos Gallego, Dawn Pendergrast, Lanie Browne, Paul Klinger, and Chax Press’s Charles Alexander—provided an often skeptical sounding board for the panelists. All in all, many audience members told me this conference had really changed their lives—that they were looking at the possibilities of poetry in a new way.

Frances Sjoberg and her associates at Arizona were primarily responsible for the success of the symposium, but as guest curator, let me throw out two “Don’ts” that helped make this event work. (1) Don’t invite poets who “should” be invited because of their “importance” or because they fill a particular slot; invite only those who you think are really outstanding and are willing to do the work. (2) Insist that all participants stay for the entire conference. No prima donnas coming in to give their papers or readings, and then quickly exit. There must, in such an instance, be community. By the end of the third day, there really was one.


Brent Cunningham:

In 2001, I attended the Association of Writers and Writing Programs annual conference and book fair in Palm Springs, representing Small Press Distribution (SPD). That year the book fair was held in a room about the size of a basketball court, with maybe 60 tables staffed by a variety of publishers and a local bookseller. Sales weren’t bad for some, but the overall effect was underwhelming. Nearly a decade later, despite our famous financial downturn, there will be some 350 book fair participants in Denver in 2010. Certainly, nothing in U.S. poetry will ever be comprehensive, but it’s hard to exaggerate the degree to which the book fair now fulfills a many-decades-old dream: to have a single location where a reader of U.S. poetry can get a decent overview of the massive, fervid, contentious poetic production of our very large land. Furthermore, while I don’t have any definitive proof, I suspect the exponential explosion of the book fair also helped the powers-that-be at the AWP realize they needed to broaden the aesthetic range of the conference itself. While some may still argue that the conference lags well behind the book fair as a realistic reflection of U.S. poetic activity, it certainly isn’t as homogeneous an event as it once was. So if you believe (as I do) that the last ten years in U.S. poetry have done much to complicate the borders of what Charles Bernstein used to call "Official Verse Culture," pushing a number of prominent organizations toward a more heterogeneous idea of the poem, the AWP book fair is an excellent case in point.


Camille Dungy:

During the last decade, the internet revolutionized the way we access poetry. Veteran readers and aspiring writers, still familiarizing themselves with what they want to read, cruise the web and discover a wealth of sources for poetry. Perhaps publishers quake at this concept, but I think it’s a positive shift. More and more people are reading poetry because they can access it easily. From my own experience, readers buy the same number of poetry books they ever did. They just might be more inclined to buy books by writers they might otherwise never have known.They find the work online, and then they can buy the books.

When Matt O’Donnell and I started From the Fishouse ( in 2004 there were no internet venues where you could find quality sources of audio and text by a large number of emerging writers. From the Fishouse now features almost 2,000 audio poems and 500 Question & Answer responses from 200 emerging poets. And the number of online sources for quality work by emerging and established writers grows by the quarter. Online resources like Drunken Boat, Mipoesias, Wacammaw, Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and the ever-growing archive at the Poetry Foundation provide poetry offerings to people in far flung communities whose local libraries or bookstores might not be able to keep a wide range the lasted books or journals in stock.

Imagine this were the year 1999 and a student, visiting my office hours, wanted to know more about some poets whose names she’d recently heard. June Jordan (1936-2002) and Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000), for instance. In 1999 I would have reached for my bookshelf to locate some dear-to-me collection I would not likely let the student leave the room carrying. Today, I can type into my search engine the name of a poet and, within seconds, access public domain examples of their work. I could print some examples and give my student other Web sites where she might continue her investigation. Maybe there would even be audio so my student could hear one of our great poets reading her own work.

The web has proved a resource for poets, readers, students, and teachers. Because of this, poetry has reached many more people over the past decade. It’s a change in the way poetry is distributed, but not all change is bad.


Francisco Aragón:

The xylophone fills the darkened room, its cascade of notes trilling high, then low, and a human voice breaks in:

Maple, oak, poplar, gingko
New leaves, “new green” on a rock ledge

The speaker in the poem is opening his eyes in Central Park (“Hot sun dapple—/Wake up”) . . . then, a little later:

Leap over the park stone wall
Dressed fast and light,
Slip into the migrating flow.

Though we are in California, we are about to experience Manhattan’s particular flora and fauna through the art of Gary Snyder. He is accompanied by musicians, with whom he’s been rehearsing for months for this very performance, rendering the evening singular—the most memorable poetry event in the last ten years.

“Walking the New York Bedrock Alive in the Sea of Information” was indeed a pinnacle moment, and yet that night—the event as a whole—felt like a culmination of what I’d absorbed as Gary Snyder’s pupil. I arrived at UC Davis in 1998 to pursue an M.A. after ten years in Spain. Among my classmates in the program: Maria Melendez. A community began to form. We weren’t especially concerned that our own poems weren’t the focus in Snyder’s workshops. I wasn’t.

Rather: his bringing Robin Blaser to class, conversing with us outside of class, encouraging us to cultivate activities unrelated to poetry, explaining how Rip Rap got into print . . . these yielded the lessons he nudged us toward: learn from, collaborate with, your peers; rather than whine, start a press; edit and publish each other; a modest chapbook is a good start; learn another language; translate from another language; read After Lorca; strive to enrich your community . . . .

And enrich his own environs is what Snyder did that summer in the Sierra foothills, under the stars, performing in its entirety—with those musician friends—Mountains and Rivers Without End.


Patricia Smith:

At approximately 11AM on Wednesday, August 24, 2005, Tropical Depression 12 gathered its howl and wind and earned a name. Taking on muscle over the Bahamas, it flexed and hissed, rained silver sheets, and picked up speed, hell-bent on the Delta--but without that name, it lacked a final fist. Then someone, without thinking, said it out loud: Katrina. And in that instant, her heart grew huge in her chest and her wind became skin. For hours she practiced the hard clicking K, spitting it staccato until she finally slipped on the three syllables and provided the Gulf Coast with a way to curse her.

Poets have an unwritten contract with the natural world. It awes us. We pay respect in reverent stanzas. It teaches. We learn. We settle into an uneasy ritual, returning again and again to our pens, microphones, and keyboards while the world makes us smaller. We often run out of the language we need to describe just what nature is capable of.

When Katrina touched down and began its swift destruction of a city, a mindset and an American culture, words failed us again. We were numbed by images of the mother wailing from a rooftop while clutching her newborn, by the wretched dance of bloated bodies spiraling in the stinking surf, by the endless tragedies of a shattered shoreline. Incredulous, we listened to the keening wail of the abandoned. And as we stumbled in shock back to our pens and keyboards, struggling to find the throat we needed to begin righting the world, we realized that the focus had shifted. We were still awed and belittled by nature’s slap, but this time we had to speak out loud the horrors of what we were capable of.  

Eileen Myles:

I merge two poetry events which both took place in October of this year. They were entirely dissimilar except for their entirely permissive and liberatory qualities. In London the Serpentine Gallery had a two-day poetry marathon. The event opened with Tracy Emin, a painter, and closed with Brian Eno, who is, well, Brian Eno. The press was out in droves for Tracy who is kind of a British bad-girl painter who made it huge in the tabloids when she drunkenly whined on a teevee show about not getting the Turner prize for painting. In some entirely egalitarian and maybe even art-hating way this action made her a media darling. I like a big complainer too. I mean I wasn’t wowed by her poetry. It wasn’t as good as Richard Brautigan’s who in another day would have been included in this event. But so was I, and so was August Kleinzahler, and so was Agnes Varda and Kenny Goldsmith and some remarkable French sound poets and finally Brian Eno, like I said. What Eno did was work at a long table full of electronica and two microphones the other manned by another guy, more of a writer I think and Eno plucked wires and pressed things and emitted sounds, and the word part was kind of call and response Eno being in charge of that too in a percussive way. Pulling the sounds, that was his poem. But when the event was over it was clear that nobody really knew what a poem was but the Serpentine was behind it, this poem thing. It was a usefully baggy approach to the meaning of the poem thing, making its existence known to the world, again. It seemed the art world was wavering towards us in some watery way. Splashing and moving their flippers and making bubbles. All we had to do as poets was accept this love. And I do. I think our acceptance of this unknowing love is the pretext for poetry’s new relationship to art in the 21st c. It’s all around us. It’s not us around them. Trying to slip our tentacles into their party.

At the end of the Advancing Feminist Poetics conference held at the City University of New York this October there was one of those closing panels at which someone quoted Lisa Robertson. When asked in an interview what “kind” of poet she is Lisa (who was not there) replied “a feminist poet.” And that response in this context, which had been about women and poetry for two days, same amount of time as in London, coincidentally, created an excited hush. Why? Because no one had even considered for a moment of those two days that the purpose of this conference was to define feminism. Poetry had been the subject and feminism was there in some other way. It was simply way. Lisa Robertson is a poet whose aesthetic credentials are impeccable. She almost writes prose. She’s utopian. She’s Canadian. She’s a member of the Kootenay School. She thinks about art. She’s slept with women and she’s slept with men. In experimental circles she’s kind of a poets’ poet and a writer’s writer. So what does she mean when she calls herself “a feminist poet.” Is that some kind of aesthetic statement. Could it be true. Maybe it is, after all. And maybe where we’re going towards in the next decade of the 21st century is the pleasure of living in this unknowing bagginess of truth. A moving abstract. The women poets I know are beginning to understand feminism as a sly term that can hold a lot. All that it needs. And the art world wants to employ our medium to hitch the unhitchable, to use language as a kind of transparent hangar, to stop describing the art and to participate instead and we are invited to take part too if we have the nerve to accept the offer that is on the table. Even if it’s not ours. Can we stand it? Both of these offers, these openings in feminism and poetry, are so baldly and nakedly and shamelessly open.

Originally Published: December 21st, 2009
  1. December 22, 2009
     David Biespiel

    A coda to Ron Silliman's post about
    the "collapse" of some academic
    journals, specifically Poetry
    Northwest, whose demise in his
    post is greatly exaggerated.
    Shuttered temporarily in 2002,
    Poetry Northwest was revived in
    2005 and is not just not collapsed,
    but thriving. Read more about the
    magazine here:

  2. December 23, 2009
     Ron Silliman

    David, this is why I chose the term "collapse" rather than, say, "demise."

    Donald Hall is right: there are no synonyms,


  3. December 23, 2009
     Annie Finch

    It's fascinating to see all the slants---out of so many possible slants--on the decade, which seems to have been an unusually intense one for poetry. Others I considered addressing were the war in Iraq-- leading to the founding of Poets Against the War, various acts of protest, and numerous anthologies and other printed, virtual, and actual actions-- and the Lilly bequest to the Poetry Foundation, enabling unprecedentedly comprehensive efforts to build poetry's "great audience," with ripple effects in so many directions.

    I wonder what readers think were the most significant poetry events of the decade?

  4. December 23, 2009
     Dave Bonta

    Hats off to Silliman and Dungy for expressing so well the revolutionary potential of the read-write web. In the past few years we've seen an increasing number of poets workshopping, self-publishing and publishing each other online, and as Silliman suggests, this is really changing the relationship between author and audience. The advent of the modern content management system (CMS) is a huge boon for publishers, which unfortunately most existing online magazine editors have yet to recognize. While I think it's important that the majority of poets remain culturally conservative, I do think it's time for online publishers to embrace such now-standard web tools and strategies as RSS feeds, incremental publishing (as opposed to periodic issue-dumps), reader comments on content, author indexing, search-engine-friendly metadata, and the semantic web. Videopoetry is another exciting new genre greatly facilitated by the popularity of video-sharing sites (Vimeo is currently the best place to find high-quality videopoetry). I hope that college writing programs will consider adding digital literacy to their curricula. Anyone capable of writing a villanelle or a pantoum can certainly figure out how to code CSS or edit a half-decent videopoem.

  5. December 26, 2009
     Kazim Ali

    I loved reading this range of responses; in particular the idea that poetry has a role in the promotion of the individual spirit in the midst of the dizzying acceleration of information dissemination and of thought itself.

    And thanks to Eileen Myles for mentioning Canadian poets, from whom so much brilliance is currently issuing! Including Robertson, I suggest Erin Moure, Jordan Scott and Nathalie Stephens--writers of beautiful texts with strong social commitments besides--

  6. December 26, 2009
     Kent Johnson

    What about the rapid process of institutional legitimation undergone by the so-called post-avant during the past ten years? In rather obvious and various ways, this has dramatically changed the landscape of U.S. poetry.

    The academic turn was underway already in the 90s, certainly, but that the process of recuperation has reached qualitatively new levels (think, for contrast, of the NAP in the 60s or of Language poetry in the 80s) and that "experimental" or "avant-garde" modes are now widely sanctioned, quite well-integrated into what used to be disparagingly called Official Verse Culture, seems a crucial development to reckon with-- one whose consequences will be playing out for some decades to come.

  7. December 27, 2009
     Political Poet

    Maybe the rise of the Internet changes the means of distribution, but does it really effect poetry? The answer depends on whether people really believe that abiding art can come from the purely new (i.e. Jeff Koons and John Ashberry). I don't.

    It is interesting that one reviewer above notes that Sam Hamill's Poets Against the War movement has made a difference. I certainly do not see it in the culture or in the major literary journals, except maybe in the excellent reporting of the Virginia Quarterly review. In contrast, the major poets of the 1960s from Lowell to Bly to Plath all touched on serious 'political' themes, with that word defined very broadly, deeply, even in the sense of diving into the wreck (Adrienne Rich's term, of course).

    A smaller magazine, Poems Against War (Wasteland Press), has tried to re-raise this consciousness, in poetry and in the culture.

  8. December 28, 2009
     Carlos Cumpian

    Chicano poets have been invisible inside the United States of America for decades. There's an estimated 19 million Mexican-Americans/Chicanos out of the 30 million US Latinos. Chicago-born Ana Castillo and Sandra Cisneros, are well known, but first as a fiction writers, then as poets. Cisneros' first book was Bad Boys published by Lorna Dee Cervantes' Mango Press. Castillo had her chapbook Otro Canto before her body of fiction. The majority of the Chicana/o poets born before 1955 are still invisible to American poetry readers: Tino Villanueva, Ricardo Sanchez, Raul Salinas, Jose Montoya, Abelardo "Lalo" Delgado, Sergio Elizondo, Bernice Zamora, Alurista, Carlos A. Cortez, Luis Omar Salinas, Cecilio Garcia-Camarillo, Trinidad Sanchez Jr., Jose Antonio Burciaga, Jose Montalvo, Angela de Hoyos, Carmen Tafolla, Nephtali De Leon, to name some other Chicano poets of Juan Felipe Herrera's generation. Ten of the 17 listed have died in the past decade, maybe American poetry will notice these bilingual poets when Latinos are millions more of the US population in 2030. We are writing for the bilingual future!

  9. December 30, 2009
     Grey Brown

    In the past decade, the first Poetry and Medicine Conference was held at Duke University Medical Center including poets Lucille Clifton, Sharon Olds, Mark Doty, the late John Stone and Lee Young Li. Poets and caregivers met to dicuss the intersections of poetry and medicine. They will meet again in May 2010 again at Duke to examine clinical uses of poetry in caregiving. The second conference will feature Jane Hirschfield, David Whyte, Kate Daniels, Alan Shaprio and Danielle Ofir. Check it out at

  10. December 30, 2009
     Margo Berdeshevsky

    War, women, web, and ethnicities.
    What a useful collective mind on
    American poetry this represents. And if
    this collective mind were more global--
    what would it need to include, I'm also
    pondering ... and have we come to see
    ourselves as the hub of the wheel, and
    is that a good thing? New year's
    eclipse nearing: what a huge sky for
    poems to fill.

    (most significant poetry event, Annie:
    still the blank page, words--on orange
    or red alert.)

  11. December 30, 2009
     Neil Astley

    This piece should be called "The Decade
    in AMERICAN Poetry" – it lacks any
    perspective on poetry outside the
    States. It is of wider interest in what
    the editors have to say about poetry
    and its audience, women, war and so-
    called minority writing, especially
    especially the contributions by Matthew
    Zapruder, Annie Finch and Ron
    Silliman, but it smacks of arrogance to
    give it a title which suggests that only
    American poets have made any real
    contribution to the poetry of the past
    decade. The Poetry Foundation's
    website is read throughout the world -
    that's part of its raison d'etre surely?
    So why this parochial approach?

  12. January 2, 2010
     Margo Berdeshevsky

    I'm not crazy about lists of "bests"--for all the reductive reasons--, but Neil, why not name some "globals" you feel one needs to heed?

  13. January 2, 2010
     Raymond Bianchi

    better yet it should have been called those who went to the best schools and wrote poetry decade. There is nothing in this essay about the 400 million people in this hemisphere who do not speak english, and US Hispanics dont count they are Americans what I am talking about are the millions of poetry READERS in places like Brazil, Mexico an Argentina. What about the middle east? You could have asked Franklin Lewis to write on poetry in that part of the world? Or the fact that in China today there are poets in jail for writing poems? Believe me the loss of Triquarterly is not a tragedy but the lack of global perspective is...

  14. January 5, 2010
     Annie Finch

    Thanks for the important thoughts re the post-avant, poetry and medicine, China.... And I'm glad to see so many comments reminding us that the Anglophone US is NOT the center of the poetry world (especially considering that poetry itself tends to be so much more truly valued and appreciated elsewhere than in the Anglophone US!). My own post briefly mentioned some poetry events in Afghanistan and the U.K.— but I agree that these thoughts on the decade's end, especially under such a general title, could and should range much further. I believe part of the editors' aim was that much of the importance of this piece would arise in the Comments section -- so, in keeping with Margo's request, I'd love to hear Neil's, Carlos', Raymond's thoughts on the significant events of the decade.

  15. January 6, 2010

    I think the poetry bus that folks put together was a pretty important thing. Taking poetry out on the road, off the computers, all that.

  16. January 6, 2010
     Scott M. Anderson

    January 6, 2010 In response to Annie Finch asking what the readers thought of which poetry events shaped the last decade? From a chronological perspective: 1. George W. Bush as President 2. September 11, 2001 3. War 4. Collapse of America’s economic infrastructure, including Bernie Madoff. 5. Barack Obama as President 6. Digital transportation - internet, computers, digerati. 7. Instant gratification - Spoiled role models, celebrities, foolish fame chasers, reality shows, “entertainment television” as it is called. 8. Premature distribution of Nobel Peace prize. I realize this is a list of indirect influence; not so much poetry events, but events or symptoms that seduce and even invoke some of today’s poetic substance and fuel.

  17. January 9, 2010
     Stella Nesanovich

    Thank you, Patricia Smith, for mentioning
    Katrina. For those of us writing and living
    in the Gulf South, particularly in Louisiana
    and Mississippi, and those of us who are
    New Orleans natives, Katrina changed our
    lives forever, changed our perspective of
    our world, our government, and nature.
    How could it not change our poetry, our
    creative vision? A friend told me recently
    "your poetry is all about grief and loss."
    After 9/ll and then Katrina, how could it be

  18. January 12, 2010
     Kristin Fogdall

    While these poets have many
    interesting things to say, so many of
    their comments illustrate a trend I think
    is disturbing: a trend toward poetry as
    political commentary, gender statement
    or re-hash of current events.
    Language, it seems, is no longer the
    primary creative engine behind most of
    our "poetry."

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not
    conservative or a new formalist. And I
    am glad, as Camille Dungy points out,
    that the internet makes so much poetry
    so easily available. But I fear that we
    have wandered into easy poetry, as if it
    did not have to be wrought, draft after
    draft, but can be simply lifted from the
    pages of a newspaper or from the first
    whims (without consideration or
    revision) of our own brains.

    For me, Elizabeth Alexander's poem at
    the Obama inauguration was a great
    example. Too facile--the poem did not
    sufficiently grapple (in language or
    thought) with our nation's history or the
    immensity of that event.

    Poetry has room for great diversity.
    But however we write--let's devote
    ourselves to language first and
    foremost. Let's ask more of ourselves-
    -and of Poetry itself.

  19. January 15, 2010
     Pradip Kumar Patra

    There is a good exploration of contemporary poetry, in the sense, poetry has come very close to the readers and the journal motivates the poets, critics and readers to develop an understanding instead of building an ivory tower which is never approachable.

  20. January 15, 2010
     Annie Finch

    Kristin, in fact I have often been called
    a "new formalist" myself, and I couldn't
    value more the importance of
    reworking poems (many of my poems
    have been worked on for 20 years--and
    if you check some out online or
    elsewhere, you'll probably be able to
    tell that they have been "wrought, draft
    after draft.")

    So you won't be surprised that, when I
    was asked to contribute to this piece on
    significant trends in the last decade, I
    considered writing something about the
    influence of a return to formalism. It's
    clearly an issue that people are curious
    about, as witnessed even by the
    reference to it by the editors at the top
    of this article.

    But I decided against it because, to be
    honest, I don't think the trend has
    seriously emerged yet, if you look at
    anthologies, contest judging, poetry
    writing classes, etc. (and you might
    want to read some of my blog posts on
    the Harriet blog on this subject--for
    instance, the one called Listening to
    Poetry (you can find all my Harriet blog
    posts at
    t/author/afinch/--just scroll down a few
    pages to find the one on Listening to
    Poetry). There hasn’t been the kind of
    popping-out-all-over feeling that is true
    of the women’s activity I described in
    my contribution.

    But the appreciation of form and meter
    seems to be now beginning to gather its
    momentum. In 2019, if I am asked to
    write something about the closing
    decade, I wouldn’t be surprised if I will
    be able write about a shift in that

    It's interesting that you mention
    Elizabeth Alexander's inaugural poem.
    I agree there is a connection between
    meter/form and successful occasional
    poetry (another topic I've blogged
    about on Harriet and elsewhere—in
    fact, just a few weeks ago at my own
    blog--), and I also would have liked to
    see that poem be even more structured
    than it was.

    One last thought: it sometimes seems
    to us nowadays that there is a conflict
    between politically engaged poetry and
    formally engaged poetry--which is why
    "conservative" (in the sense of not
    wanting things to change) and "new
    formalist" are often linked together in
    people's minds, just as they are in your
    post. But this connection only dates
    from the late 1950s, and there is
    nothing necessary about it. It may be
    true that there have not been many
    politically oriented poems in form
    written between the 1960s and now, but
    still, the world is full of poems on
    political subjects that are formally
    "wrought." Claude McKay's "If We Must
    Die," Anne Finch's "The Introduction,"
    Longfellow's and Whittier's poems about
    abolition, Langston Hughes' "Justice,"
    and Lydia Sigourney's "Sutte," are a
    few of thousands of examples, and
    even in recent years there have been
    some very effective politically oriented
    poems in well-wrought form, from
    Marilyn Hacker's AIDS elegies to Robert
    Bly’s ghazals against the Iraq war to
    Patricia Smiths’s metrical poems about
    Hurricane Katrina.

    Thank you for your thoughtful
    comment, which seems to be based in
    a deep care for poetry and in love of
    reading poetry.

  21. January 19, 2010

    Those organizations and magazines that do not seek out the broad spectrum of poetic talent, but restrict themselves to the "chosen few" or the academics only or someone who knows someone or have brought about the change that is not always for the better. Publishing houses that have essentially dropped poets and left the publishing of poetry to "small press" or "independent press" have changed the course of poetry as well. What will Kindle and its offspring do to the publishing industry and to poetry? In the Foundation's statement at the top it is written: We asked poets and critics whose work has had a wide influence over the art form ...... Who says these people have had "wide influence? Do average readers and poetry lovers know who they are? These are questions you should begin addressing. Poetry is not a club for the elite. It is genre for the masses - but only if you let it be so.

  22. January 22, 2010
     Charles Alexander

    Marjorie Perloff's comment on "Conceptual Poetry and Its Others" includes a comment that members of the Tucson community "provided an often skeptical sounding board for the panelists," who were visitors from other places. I do not think Tucsonans were generally skeptical. What I remember is one specifically skeptical moment, an important realpolitik moment introduced by Laynie Browne having to do with the lack of women represented in the Ubuweb Conceptual Poetry Anthology. In general, the Tucson community I know was hungry for the event, and felt that the conference made manifest to the wider public in Tucson work that many of us here are already involved with, but that had not previously taken center stage in a major, institutional way. I know for Chax Press, the event was a welcome meeting with old and new friends, an introduction of the press's work to many, and garnered the highest book sales we've ever had locally. My thanks go out to Marjorie Perloff and Charles Bernstein for their organizational roles, and to the visionary and hard-working staff at the Univ of Arizona Poetry Center, particularly Frances Sjoberg (who unfortunately is no longer with the Center), Gail Browne, Cybele Knowles, Renee Angle, Rodney Phillips, Annie Guthrie, and Wendy Burk.

  23. January 28, 2010
     Nick Popa

    Poetry communities seem as good as ever. The internet certinly facilitates access to world wide poetry. Also, people manage to meet in person because of the many conferences organized. Although I enjoyed the collection of articles regarding these issues, I was unhappy to notice that there was no attempt at defining a poetics of the past decade. Poetry necessarily reaches beyond the historical context (although from Whitman on, that democratic context became a vital source for poetry worldwide). So could anyone attempt to define contemporary poetry in terms of recurrent themes. Please do not tell me the future is Concrete Poetry as that would be quite impoverishing. Nick from Romania

  24. January 29, 2010
     Bernadette Jansen op de Haar

    Poetry hasn’t changed in the past decade, it does what it has done for centuries so very well, to make us think, to point out what we hadn’t seen before, to remind us who we are. Through the centuries text in verse form was easy to learn by hart and pass on. This may well have gone out of fashion recently but what happens, the internet comes along and suddenly poetry could well be back in business.

    A very exciting development and any of us who are independent publishers (as I am: Holland Park Press) are very exciting about the new opportunities for poetry.

  25. July 9, 2012

    Perhaps if these poetical persons spent less time debating the what's in and what's out of the art, they could expend more effort in the direction of developing a personal sensibility, and write from the heart rather than from the news. Women poets could try writing for humankind. Woop-de-doo, you have a womb. Get over it, for art's sake. Feminism is boring. There isn't alot to say about being a woman, apart from the obvious, that some man somewhere might not someday say about himself. All the conventions of gender have been obliterated by now.

    This article made my stomach churn with annoyance. Surely this is not the cutting edge of the twenty-first century. We live in climatic era of human history. If these are the heights to which we aspire and are inspired, then poetry is pointless.