Reputations are made and rewards distributed within the poetry subculture.
To adapt Russell Jacoby’s definition of contemporary academic renown from The Last Intellectuals, a “famous” poet now means someone famous only to other poets.
A reader familiar with the novels of Joyce Carol Oates, John Updike, or John Barth may not even recognize the names of Gwendolyn Brooks, Gary Snyder, and W. Whereas a new novel or biography is reviewed on or around its publication date, a new collection by an important poet like Donald Hall or David Ignatow might wait up to a year for a notice. Henry Taylor’s only reflects the opinion that although there is a great deal of poetry around, none of it matters very much to readers, publishers, or advertisers—to anyone, that is, except other poets.
For most newspapers and magazines, poetry has become a literary commodity intended less to be read than to be noted with approval.
One cannot easily marshal numbers, but to any candid observer the evidence throughout the world of ideas and letters seems inescapable. There is, in fact, little coverage of poetry or poets in the general press.
From 1984 until this year the National Book Awards dropped poetry as a category. In fact, virtually no one reviews it except other poets.In American letters they date back to the nineteenth century.But the modern debate might be said to have begun in 1934 when Edmund Wilson published the first version of his controversial essay “Is Verse a Dying Technique? No longer part of the mainstream of artistic and intellectual life, it has become the specialized occupation of a relatively small and isolated group.Little of the frenetic activity it generates ever reaches outside that closed group. Like priests in a town of agnostics, they still command a certain residual prestige.But as individual artists they are almost invisible.What makes the situation of contemporary poets particularly surprising is that it comes at a moment of unprecedented expansion for the art.Almost no popular collections of contemporary poetry are available except those, like the , targeting an academic audience.It seems, in short, as if the large audience that still exists for quality fiction hardly notices poetry. Whereas a new novel or biography is reviewed on or around its publication date, a new collection by an important poet like Donald Hall or David Ignatow might wait up to a year for a notice. , but almost always in group reviews where three books are briefly considered together.But the poetry boom has been a distressingly confined phenomenon.Decades of public and private funding have created a large professional class for the production and reception of new poetry comprising legions of teachers, graduate students, editors, publishers, and administrators.