Poetry News

The 15 most-read Poetry Foundation & Poetry magazine articles of 2010

By Poetry Foundation

Just in case 2010 found you locked in a basement—or with Comcast internet (zing!)—here's what your non-secluded peers made popular over the course of the year: The most-read articles from the past year, from Ginsberg to Myles to Behrle. Enjoy!

15. Ginsberg's Howl to Franco's Ginsberg—D.A. Powell, Rob Epstein, and Jeffrey Friedman

"RE: A lot of the animation was being done in Thailand. The Thai animators kept sending these huge penises.

DP: Well, I wonder if that says something about the difference in cultures.

RE: Yes, they’re very generous people . . ."

14. This Is Your Brain on Poetry—Ange Mlinko and Ian McGilcrhist

"I am not impressed by the trend towards neuroscience in the modern novel—it seems to me bound up with a sense of inferiority, as though, despite the bravado, we accept that our realities are only playacting, while the scientists know what’s really going on. It reminds me a bit of colonial subjects in the bad old days, dressing like the Brits in order to be taken seriously. How it messed up the study of literature, all those university departments that had to prove they were doing something difficult and serious, a form of science! We badly need an antidote to this culture: we should not be concerned with proving ourselves clever, but rejoicing in doing something science could never do on its own, understanding and celebrating experience—otherwise known as life. Poets and all artists take the inside view: as I say in the book, the brain is just the view from the outside. It’s not more real . . ."

13. A Portrait of the Artist Engulfed in Flames—Emily Gould

"In the intervening years, during which I have mentioned Eileen Myles every time anyone has ever asked who my favorite writers are, I have come to the conclusion that Eileen Myles is somehow still not famous. Which: what the fuck? Eileen Myles has been working steadily for 30-plus years, and she has written several brilliant books—prose and poetry and some other stuff that blurs the already-blurry distinction between these types of writing. Maybe the problem is that people don’t know where in the bookstore to stick her, or that she has never been taken up by a mainstream publisher, not even one of the 'quirky' ones like Grove. Maybe the problem is her defiant approach to punctuation, her refusal—except when she is mimicking a voice—to ever employ question marks. Maybe it’s because she is never apologetic, especially for being rapaciously sexual and snobby/bitchy about other poets and artists . . ."

12. Are You Smeared with the Juice of Cherries?—Michael Robbins

"When Hass’s pintails and blue-winged teals are lined up in a row, the deftness of his observations almost rivals that of the haiku masters he has so memorably translated: in a restaurant’s tank, 'coppery lobsters scuttling over lobsters.' But as the above verse suggests, Hass is also given to pedantic soothsaying, telling the reader how it is in tones that suggest he is just slightly winded from having jogged down the slopes of Parnassus. The poetry takes on the tenor of the lecture hall, the quality of prose statement: Of all the laws that bind us to the past, the names of things are stubbornest. Is this true? Is it even meaningful?"

11. The Voices of Katrina, Part II—Raymond McDaniel

"I was in Florida when Katrina lacerated the Gulf Coast and laid bare the chicanery of the Army Corps of Engineers and much of municipal New Orleans and Louisiana and Mississippi. I’m certain that my reactions were those of anyone familiar with the city and the region, those of anyone with friends and family there. When I returned to Michigan, however, I realized it was foolish to assume uniformity of reaction, because in conversation about the events, a co-worker said that he believed 'those people knew what they were in for, and if they didn’t like the risk they should have moved' . . ."

10. Art vs. Laundry—Stephen Burt

"More and more, this year—especially since our second child was born—I’ve come to feel that poetry just can’t be as important as most people who write about it now make it seem: that, as Elizabeth Bishop put it in another connection, 'Art just isn’t worth that much.' Sometimes I do not want to read—much less read about, write about, or even write—poetry, because it would take time away from more important things (such as accumulated laundry). More often I feel that I should not give poems the time that they (immoral creatures) seem to demand. If we are judged fairly, if we can ever be judged fairly, the verdict will rest much less on the spark in our line breaks or on the aptness of our adjectives than on whether we live as responsible people: whether we keep our promises, prepare acceptable lunches for our children, return the phone calls we get at odd hours from friends. We will be judged on whether we give other people what we owe them, and whether we can clean up after ourselves . . ."

9. The Great Scorer—John Wooden

"While I never stood on a bench and recited Grantland Rice, I did constantly inject ideas during practice that were 'poetic.' If I sensed lagging energy in a player—Bill Walton, perhaps?—I might quickly take him aside and sternly tell him to step it up: 'Failing to prepare is preparing to fail, Bill!'

On those occasions when I had to remind him to cut his hair or shave his beard before he could come into practice, he might offer the words of his own favorite poet: 'Coach Wooden, "The times they are a-changin."' Well, they weren’t a-changin’ for those who wanted to be members of the UCLA varsity basketball team . . . "

8. Charles Bukowski, Family Guy—Molly Young

"I opened Bukowski’s Living on Luck because the doodle on the cover was appealing, and I read it because there was a Young, Lafayette entry in the index. There was also, and more excitingly, a Young, Niki entry one millimeter below it. Niki is my mother, Nicole, and a letter dated May 1970 from Bukowski to Lafe includes the injunction to Stay in there Niki. What was my mother, aged 17, supposed to stay in?"

7. The Voices of Hurricane Katrina—Abe Louise Young

"Hurricane Katrina did not happen in a vacuum, in America’s imagination, to everyone, or in general. It happened in a particular geography, a history, an economy, and a field of race and power built to render certain people powerless. When a white person takes the voices of people of color for his own uses, without permission, in the aftermath of a racially charged national disaster, it is vulture work—worse than ventriloquism . . ."

6. This Land is Our Land—David Biespiel

"America’s poets have a minimal presence in American civic discourse and a minuscule public role in the life of American democracy. I find this condition perplexing and troubling—both for poetry and for democracy. Because when I look at American poetry from the perspective of a fellow traveler, I see an art invested in various complex, fascinating, historical, and sometimes shop-worn literary debates. I see a twenty-first-century enterprise that’s thriving in the off-the-beaten-track corners of the nation’s cities and college towns. But at the same time that poetry’s various coteries are consumed with art-affirming debates over poetics and styles, American poetry and America’s poets remain amazingly inconsequential to the rest of the nation’s civic, democratic, political, and public life . . ."

5. Recognition, Vertigo, and Passionate Worldliness—Tony Hoagland

"The most prevalent poetic representation of contemporary experience is the mimesis of disorientation by non sequitur. Just look into any new magazine. The most frequently employed poetic mode is the angular juxtaposition of dissonant data, dictions, and tones, without defining relations between them. The poem of non-parallelism—how things, perceptions, thoughts, and words coexist without connecting—is the red wheelbarrow of Now . . ."

4. In a Relationship—Tao Lin

"Out of the poems in this essay I think I would most be interested in a psychology experiment—of which I would also like to be a participant—where one hundred people who have just been 'dumped' to emotionally devastating results in the past hour are forced to read this poem then interviewed about their experience, with accompanying brain-scans . . ."

3. Why Live Without Writing—Durs Grünbein

"There are three questions that a poet is always asked once he’s become reasonably well established, i.e., isn’t forever required to spell his name, and his CV is reduced to two or three worn phrases. Never mind the fact that these phrases come out of the platitudinous files of some press department. What matters is that he showed sufficient stamina in the pursuit of his solitary discipline, which might suggest pole vaulting and dashing sprints, but probably has most in common with the monotony of the marathon runner. Whichever, one day finds him standing under the open sky with a few curiosity seekers in front of him. The air is thick with old ideas, fantasies about the poet’s life unchanged since Homer’s day. I’ll bet you anything: they come out in the form of the same three questions. At the end of the reading, there’s not even any hesitation or throat clearing. It’s as if the questions were always there, a kind of diffuse curiosity, a residue of admiration tinged with skepticism and a little bumptiousness . . ."

2. Good Poems About Ugly Things—Molly Young

"Like that of Miller and Bukowski, Seidel’s style is one of incriminating self-exposure coupled with an exacting (and therefore imitable) aesthetic. But here’s a funny thing. Writing a poem about lust, pride, imprudence—about ordering a call girl or staying at 'literally the most expensive hotel in the world' or racing a bike at 200 mph—has a way of neutralizing the unpleasantness of that vice. To write a good poem about an ugly thing, as Seidel does often, is not to write an ugly poem . . ."

1. 24/7 Relentless Careerism—Jim Behrle

"Now, you might think that because there are more poets than ever, there might be more opportunities for poets than ever. And you’d be correct. If your fondest wish is to become the next totally obscure minor poet on the block, well, you’re probably already successful at that. This literary landscape has proven itself infinitely capable of absorbing countless interchangeable artists, all doing roughly the same thing in relative anonymity: just happily plucking away until death at the grindstone, making no great cultural headway, bouncing poems off their friends and an audience of about 40 people. A totally fine little life for an artist, to be sure. No grand expectations from the world to sit up and listen. One can live out one’s days quite satisfied to create something enjoyed by a genial cult. But that’s not why any of us are here tonight. We’re here to conquer American Poetry and suck it dry of all glory and juice . . ."

Originally Published: December 2nd, 2010