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« Three Poems (by Mitch Sisskind) | Main | Announcing "101 Jewish Poems for the Third Millennium" [eds. Matthew E. Silverman and Nancy Naomi Carlson] »

January 01, 2021


"Who do you write for?" is not a good question. Why do you write poetry, or why does anybody publish poetry? are still feeble questions. The question is, "What is poetry?" To assume, as these questions do, that you know what is poetry, is hubris. Does an editor know what poetry is? Does a grant jury, including Pulitzer and Nobel, know what poetry is? They don't. They know the poets they heard about and they have read poets under duress, because the "culture" demands it, because it's their job to do so. Poets read poetry to figure out how to write poetry. The genre itself is an atavistic inheritance from a earlier age when language was divided by genre and countries had borders. Dictators are poetry's best friends: they enforce borders. The only (wobbly) claim for textual difference between "essays" and "philosophy" can be made for stories; they cover the whole page. "Poetry" leaves blank spaces on the margins, a gift to the nonexistent art of calligraphy. The plague of confessional text passing for "poetry" these days is a guide to the victimization of the first person singular, a footnote to political rhetoric. So why are so many young people writing this thing? Because it's easy, it carries a number of followers (like a tiny internet platform) and it can get you laid. And it keeps poetry schools in business. Why older poets keep writing it? They hope to find out what it is they are doing.

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That Ship Has Sailed
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"Lively and affectionate" Publishers Weekly


I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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