Another panel on the future of poetry? Another gathering of anointed poet-critics? It's sinister.

lbr, I’ve sat on such a panel before—four years ago, and if anyone asks me this question again, I’ll make the case again that the future of poetry is no future, that what’s interesting and unkillable about poetry is its blackbox present tense that keeps shedding spectacular and occult effects like a basement blacklight and like a distant star, collapsing after its set.


That’s why I’m not avant-garde since I have no interest in marching forward with my banner though I do have a banner and it’s made of rags and rats and estrogen-shedding plastics, a toxic and lousy affair.   We flounce, half-Havisham, half-arthropod.  Our standard is flaccid and bends. The cassette runs backwards. The whole get-up plus the cassette is degrading  and rotting like the rotting python for which the Pythian oracle is named and sending up fumes and those fumes help me know the FUTURE OF POETRY which is the present shacked up with the past in a clunky San Francisco flop house in Vertigo, synthetic sky a shady blue = day-for-night.  Snake oil. A switcheroo.

What goes on in that casket-slash-room  when the plot is somewhere else, when the director is not thinking about it, when  the corset is glaring at the sewing box and the hairdye split off from the plotline and goes out to off gas in that serenely toxic sky.

=POETRY NO FUTURE. Poetry’s furtive and glamourous effects.

pythian oracle

Every poet should want to be knocked off course by some incredible new-to-them poem, whether it’s contemporary, ancient, or from any of the several hundred misery-infused centuries humankind has inflicted on the earth. Nobody should need to know whether a poem is important or permanent before allowing him or herself to get renovated by it.

Yet panel after panel shows our poet-critics back at it, trying to prognosticate what-comes-next, which is really (paradoxically) a diagnostic tool for determining "what will be permanent."

The Future of Poetry, it would seem, is an eternal question.

The Future of Poetry will be an eternal chain of panels discussing the Future of Poetry.

The Future of Poetry begins to look like the panelists. I’m talking to myself again.

The Future of Poetry will be a decision made by textbook editors and syllabus-designers and prize-hander-outers and best-of-list-makers (Will there be poetry textbooks in the Future of Poetry? Will there be anything else? Is the Future-of-Poetry anything but a pedagogic mode?).

But Poetry will keep on swarming incompatibly in the valley of its own making, a way of happening, a mouth. That valley is a cave, that cave is full of guinea pigs: here in the gorge, here in the stack, here in the heart of the guinea pig darkness.

It looks like Mommy is having another litter.

And Hell has many mouths.




The panel referred to in para 1 = ‘Poetry: What’s Next’, Grolier Books Shop, March 14, 2014, feat Robert Archambeau, Stephen Burt, and Ben Mazer; “It’s sinister”  and “I’m talking to myself again”  = “America” by Allen Ginsberg;  “valley of its own making…mouth” = truncated Auden  ‘In Memory of WB Yeats’; “here in the gorge etc ” = Aase Berg “In the Heart of the Guinea Pig Darkness” trans. Johannes Göransson; “It looks like Mommy etc” = Kim Hyesoon “Mommy Must be a Fountain of Feathers” trans. Don Mee Choi; “Hell has many mouths” = Maria Negroni trans. Michelle Gil-Montero.

Originally Published: April 1st, 2014

Joyelle McSweeney was born in Boston and spent most of her childhood in suburban Philadelphia. She has a BA from Harvard University; an MPhil in English studies from Oxford University, where she was a Marshall Scholar; and an MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. McSweeney’s collections of poetry include...