Always glad to see August Kleinzahler, one of the best poets writing today, get some press. Reporters for mainstream papers who write about AK seem to like to ask Billy Collins for a quote about him. In the LA Times recently, BC remarked, on AK’s attacks on the poetry establishment: “All the vitriol…I don’t get it.”
Which makes me ask a question of my own:
Billy—No vitriol? I don’t get it.

Originally Published: August 4th, 2008

Daisy Fried is the author of Women's Poetry: Poems and Advice (2013), My Brother is Getting Arrested Again (2006) and She Didn’t Mean to Do It (2000), all from University of Pittsburgh Press. She was awarded the Editors' Prize for Feature Article from Poetry magazine in 2009.   

  1. August 4, 2008

    For a split second I thought that was Shatner.
    Billy Collins lives in a land of fairies and rainbows and fluffy bunnies, and nothing bad ever happens there.

  2. August 4, 2008

    Man, when I first saw that photo I thought it was a post about William Shatner!!

  3. August 4, 2008
     Michael Robbins

    Wow, I clicked on here to ask if anyone else thought that was Shatner. Shatner vs. Billy Collins: there's a match I'd pay to see.

  4. August 4, 2008
     Kent Johnson

    I thought it was Christopher Hitchens, right after his waterboarding.

  5. August 4, 2008
     unreliable narrator

    Now Kent, you are taking DA's injunction about summer frolicking TOO FAR. (Hilarious defense of the moratorium-disregarding duende, by the way.)

  6. August 4, 2008
     Kent Johnson

    Thanks for that. But I can't take too much credit, since it's a TRUE story, one involving my book of epigrams and pictures, Epigramititis: 118 Living American Poets.
    So I was merely reporting there what I've heard from various reliable sources who were in attendance!

  7. August 4, 2008

    That photograph isn't Shatner-- and it's not Billy Collins.
    Frankly I'm not sure why Kleinzahler wants, or once wanted, to spend time attacking Billy Collins, or attacking Garrison Keillor either-- Keillor's taste in poetry sure isn't mine, but Keillor seems to me to do more good than harm. I like Kleinzahler's poetry almost limitlessly, as some of you already know, but "why the vitriol" isn't a bad question: its possible answers say something, maybe something profound, about how Kleinzahler's tastes, and his mind, work right now. I think he needs the vitriol for the poems. (And his latest poems-- Kleinzahler's, I mean-- are some of his best.)

  8. August 5, 2008
     Michael Robbins

    Was anyone unclear about who's in the photograph? It's not as good, though, as the one on the jacket of Sleeping It off in Rapid City, my vote for book of the year. As for vitriol, asking "why" might indeed lead to interesting avenues if taken seriously, but I don't get the sense Collins is really interested in answers. He just wants everyone to get along.

  9. August 5, 2008

    Funny thing. When Franz Wright was disposed to punch William Logan in the nose, there was a fair amount of ostensible mirth and embarassment. When Kleinzahler talks about taking a swing at someone, it's somehow.... cool??

  10. August 5, 2008
     Michael Robbins

    I thought it was cool when Franz did it too.

  11. August 5, 2008
     Kent Johnson

    It would make for a quirky, but certainly popular collection:
    Donnish Donneybrooks: An Book of Anecdotes about Duels, Fistfights, and Larger Melees Between Poets (or between Poets and Critics), from Antiquity to the Present.
    Something tells me these incidents may be more common than most people think.
    I probably shouldn't say it, but I sometimes myself have wanted, and come close to...
    well, no, I won't say it, forget it.
    Anyway, does anyone want to edit this book with me? Maybe we could cut it down a bit, and start, say, with Robert Creeley in Bolinas.

  12. August 5, 2008
     Ange Mlinko

    Steve, the contemporary poems on Writer's Almanac tend to be pretty one-dimensional. Keillor makes it sound like church -- reverent, life-affirming. (Actually, the typical Bible reading is rather more bracing.)
    Kleinzahler's just matching vitriol for vitriol. I've read some nasty comments about Kay Ryan re her AWP essay. Who are these commenters? What stake do they have in the circus routines that have grown up around poetry, from conferences to National Poetry Month to "the poetry bus" et al.?
    Sleeping It Off in Rapid City is one of my favorite books this year, too. But there's a certain wisdom in warning the wrong people to fuck off. At a time when so many poets just want to move product, A.K. demands a more discerning audience. I take heart from it.

  13. August 5, 2008
     Rich Villar

    Any chance Franz Wright and/or August Kleinzahler might one day sucker punch Billy Collins?
    Such vitriol. I don't understand it...but I'd fo' sho' sell tickets for it.

  14. August 5, 2008
     Michael Robbins

    "There's a certain wisdom in warning the wrong people to fuck off."
    Oh, Ange, you keep reminding me why I love you.

  15. August 6, 2008

    Thank you, Ange, for keeping us honest. Admittedly, my own product hasn't moved in so long I suspect it's in a stupor. I better go get some sparring partners to thwack around!!

  16. August 6, 2008
     bill knott

    "August Kleinzahler, one of the best poets writing today,"
    ––may i express my disagreement with this assertion by Daisy Fried?
    to me, Kleinzahler is one of the worst poets writing today . . .
    i also think Collins is one of the best . . .

  17. August 6, 2008
     Michael Robbins

    I like Bill Knott's work very much -- he's one of the best poets writing today -- but the phrase DNFTT comes to mind.

  18. August 7, 2008

    Carl Sandburg is known today as the author of two poems -- "Chicago" and "Fog" -- but, much as I love his poetry (far beyond the schoolroom anthology standards), his most enduring legacy is probably his 1927 collection of folk songs, "The American Songbag." Not only is the bag stuffed full of songs that people still know and sing -- the list is long -- but Sandburg's editorial apparatus is charming, energetic, knowledgeable -- and was hugely influential on the styles and personae of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger -- in other words, on Folk Music As We Know It, as well as, indirectly, on Bob Dylan, or, Rock Music As We Know It. In addition, the founders of Slam acknowledge Sandburg as not only a Chicago but also a presentational forebear -- the guy is in the culture.
    I'm bothering with this because when Sandburg's publisher reissued the Songbag in 1990, they hired Garrison Keillor to write a new introduction, and he devotes most of the introduction to disparaging Sandburg -- which is a sick publishing strategy -- hire a famous name to knock your product down a few pegs.
    Keillor can be funny, but he and poetry don't get along.
    I've even been tempted to get vitriolic about it.

  19. August 7, 2008

    I don't see why Keillor is the big strawman-bugbear of American poetry. Is it because poetry world types don't want the nasty, poodle-faking, horseless riffraff to hear about poems??

  20. August 7, 2008
     bill knott

    Keillor has edited/published what, two anthologies,
    and one of your columnists there, Shepherd,
    he has also done two anthologies––
    now which of these editors has reached the most readers
    with his selections?
    And if you say that readership is not a valid criterion of
    well, Mr. and Ms. Po(Chi)Mag, why, then, why
    do you have that "poetry best sellers" feature on
    your site?
    You can't have it both ways . . . unless
    maybe you should run two lists:
    1. the best selling books
    2. the best books
    . . .

  21. August 7, 2008

    It's nice he says nice things about poetry on the radio, and he reads poems he likes. I don't like his title "Good Poems" (give me splendid poems! marvelous poems!) -- but if other people like it that's fine. It's his introduction of Sandburg that gets me.

  22. August 7, 2008

    Sure you can have it both ways. It's just easier to determine which books sell than it is which books are best. Someone should dig up the best-selling poetry books of, say, 1950, and see what from that list we'd recognize today. And surely there's also room in this vast poetry nation to have both Shepherd and Keillor and, for that matter, Bill Knott doing their various things in their different ways.
    This all reminds me of Mr Blake's nursery rhyme:
    The sow came in with the saddle,
    The little pig rocked the cradle,
    The dish jumped o' top of the table
    To see the brass pot swallow the ladle.
    The old pot behind the door
    Called the kettle a blackamoor.
    'Odd bobbs' said the gridiron, 'can't you agree?
    I'm the head constable, bring them to me.'

  23. August 7, 2008
     Kent Johnson

    Bill Knott said,
    >i also think Collins is one of the best . . .
    I've shared a couple pieces here from my recent collection I Once Met. Since he's been mentioned a few times above, here's the entry for Billy Collins. And, too, since the thread is about poetic violence...
    I've never met Billy Collins, but once I had a dream about him. We were sitting side by side, in a kind of capsule attached to a long metal arm. And the capsule began to spin faster and faster, until my face deformed with the pressure, and I screamed for them to let me out of the capsule. I looked over at Billy Collins, whose face had now become the lovely face of Ingrid Bergman in the movie Casablanca, and he/she just gazed at me, serene, through a soft filtered hue. And I screamed and screamed until my skull, of a sudden, collapsed like an egg shell, into a brownish dust. So now you see: You've been dead for three billion years, said Billy in her husky voice. And then I woke up.

  24. August 8, 2008
     Henry Gould

    Name a pop star or media figure (aside from hip-hop, which has its own poetry thing going), other than Garrison Keillor, who takes a steady interest in poetry & showcases it.
    Maybe they avoid it because they know they'll get dumped on by snotty poets.

  25. August 8, 2008
     bill knott

    Henry Gould's right about "snotty poets" . . .
    poets should be thanking Keillor for his efforts
    to bring attention to contemporary verse,
    not insulting him . . .
    i'd rather be in Keillor's anthology than Shepherd's . . .

  26. August 8, 2008
     Rich Villar

    Viggo Mortensen, founder of Perceval Press, and motherf'n ARAGORN!

  27. August 8, 2008

    Neko Case, Henry Rollins, Ray Manzarek, Nick Cave and, um, Meryl Streep?

  28. August 8, 2008
     Michael Robbins

    I've never understood why we should applaud if someone pays attention to poetry, using some media platform to bring it to the unwashed masses -- except in Keillor's case, it's the liberal middlebrow NPR set he's bringing it to. Why does an interest in poetry (a love for poetry, a passion for poetry) entail an interest in attracting a wide audience for it? This isn't a question about "dumbing it down" by the way. I think Garrison Keillor is an idiot, but I'd have the same question if we were talking about Noam Chomsky.
    Meanwhile, it's clear that Henry's not a Hold Steady fan.

  29. August 8, 2008

    I don't think Keillor should be applauded or thanked for his interest in poetry.
    His interest speaks for itself. But I do think the "bullies" of poetry should quit
    tripping him to the ground and pinning "kick me" signs to his back, just
    because it feels like a fun thing to do.

  30. August 9, 2008

    The Hold Steady are almost as boring and overrated as Band of Horses and Vampire Weekend.
    Meanwhile, poetry is for losers. That's why I like it.

  31. August 9, 2008

    why do people think the association between Garrison Keilor and regular real plain folks has any merit whatsoever?
    Garrison Keilor is entertainment for when you're starting to get sleepy and the copy of the _New Yorker_ begins to slip from your fingers.

  32. August 15, 2008
     bill knott

    i wouldn't crawl or kneel or
    pray or moan or squeal or
    break a sacred seal or
    stop dating Jessica Biehl or
    beg counterfeit or steal or
    bribe a double deal or
    storm the Bastille or
    swim the Monongahela
    but i gosh wish Garrison Keillor
    'd put me on his show
    my poem on radio
    you'll frown how middlebrow
    but twere paradise enow
    back on Writers Almanack
    where i weren't in the first place
    yes it's in the worst taste
    (like Thom Gunn's Jeffrey Dahmer
    psalms or Michael Palmer
    stuffing perfluous spaces
    between his meta-stasis phrases
    and sort of stupid-quaint
    when Garry's baritone
    buries your verse in Minnepone
    sincerities but it gets the stuff
    out to the public trough
    so two or three can swill
    your overquill
    of poesie pure or im
    thanks to him

  33. August 16, 2008
     K. Silem Mohammad

    That is so a picture of Shatner!