Friday, September 16, 2011

New Alpaugh Essay/Makuu in Korea/Great App for Poets/

David Alpaugh - Götterdämmerung for American Poetry?

Once again, David Alpaugh comes aboard as a provocative guest columnist. If you read No Money In Poetry regularly, you probably are familiar with his earlier pieces (scroll down to June 2, 2011 for) The Seven Deadly Guidelines - or the Invasion of the Poetry Editors and earlier still (March 3, 2010), The New Math of Poetry along with my own comments on the latter.

Today we have Alpaugh's undoubtedly controversial Götterdämmerung for American Poetry?
I'll begin with some meaty excerpts and then will provide a link to the entire article.

Excerpts from Götterdämmerung for American Poetry?

....Lawrence Ferlinghetti is 92; Richard Wilbur, 90; Gerald Stern and Maxine Kumin, 86; W.S. Merwin, John Ashbery and Galway Kinnell, 84; X.J. Kennedy and Adrienne Rich, 82; Gary Snyder, 81. The celebrity poets coming up behind them are already in their 70s or close to it: Mary Oliver is 76; Stephen Dunn, 72; Billy Collins, 70; Sharon Olds, 69; Louise Gluck, 68, Kay Ryan, 66.

But surely there are young poetic geniuses waiting in the wings? There are, in fact, more "emerging" poets in their 20s and 30s today than our current 2500-plus poetry journals can publish. College MFA programs are cranking them out by the thousands each year. The cream of the crop get book awards and teaching posts; but, unlike Levine and the other poets just mentioned, none is attracting many readers outside their limited poetry-writing circles.

Are we about to witness an authorial twilight of the gods? Is it Götterdämmerung time for American poetry?

To answer that question we need to go back fifty years to 1961 when our legendary Modernists were in the gloaming: Robert Frost was 87; Carl Sandburg, 83; William Carlos Williams, 78; Ezra Pound, 76; Marianne Moore and Robinson Jeffers, 74; T.S. Eliot, 73; E.E. Cummings, 67. Within twenty years they were all gone, along with younger Modernists Elizabeth Bishop and W.H. Auden.

But there wasn't a hint of Götterdämmerung in 1961 because several vibrant poetic revolutions were already underway. In 1955 Alan Ginsberg had published his controversial Howl and Other Poems, followed in 1958 by Ferlinghetti's popular A Coney Island of the Mind. In 1959 Gary Snyder imported Chinese, Japanese, and Zen models in his influential collection Rip Rap. In 1960 Donald Allen published his New American Poetry anthology which introduced readers to "The Beats," "New York School," "Black Mountain," and "San Francisco Renaissance" movements via Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, Frank O'Hara, Charles Olsen, Denise Levertov, John Ashbery, Robert Creeley and other strong voices busy transforming America's poetic landscape.


Nor did the excitement end there. In 1959 W.D. Snodgrass published his Pulitzer Prize winning Heart's Needle and Robert Lowell his epoch-making Life Studies and "Confessional" poetry was born. Anne Sexton joined them a year later with To Bedlam and Part Way Back. And by 1962 Sylvia Plath was at work on the poems that would appear posthumously in Ariel and Other Poems, a collection that would have as much impact as any volume of 20th century verse.

These newcomers were not writing as adoring disciples of the Modernist masters. Siegfrieds and Brunhildes on the ramparts, they were profoundly dissatisfied with Valhalla and eager to burn it down. The Modernists and their New Critic supporters didn't speak to their experience and times. They were too reticent about biographical, cultural and political matters and too constrictive and patrician in style. The new wave of poets raised diverse aesthetic hammers and smashed the Modernist mold, forging many distinctive voices, talking about all aspects of their personal lives—sexuality, drugs, war—nothing was off limits. A new generation of readers arose to greet them saying, "Here, at last, is the poetry we've hungered for."

Surprisingly, we have not had a comparable revolution in poetry since the 60s. Oh, there were and still are "the new formalists" and "new narrative" poets—but that's a reinvigorating of a past aesthetic rather than a true revolt. Some will point to the "language poetry" that began back in the 70s (now on life support); but an elitist movement limited to a tiny group of theorists is more terrorism than revolution.

Why has poetry been running in place for fifty years? Why are younger poets content to dance with the ghosts of poetries past? Why is it hard to think of poets now in their 30s or 40s who are likely to achieve the wide readership that Levine and the above mentioned poets enjoy? ....

Several More Excerpts with Comments

First of all, while the following strikes me as being Alpaugh's ongoing theme in several essays, I'd only respond that poets need to begin somewhere in order to later unleash a "New-where."

If, as I have argued, dissatisfaction with existing poetry is essential for the creation of exciting new work, degree-granting MFA programs make true creativity difficult if not impossible.


The programs naturally encourage complacency rather than dissatisfaction. Young poets flock to university campuses to learn from teaching poets because they admire them, often to the point of idolatry. They want to learn to write like their professors who would be masochistic were they to suggest that their own poetry must be rejected before the difficult work of creating authentic new work can begin.

The following conclusion is extremely important

Independent poets are rarely awarded significant honors by the professionals; their poetry is seldom taught in program workshops; nor are they invited to read at university venues. They are kept offstage, away from the spotlight. Were a young independent poet to write astonishing new poetry not many would get a chance to read it.

So, alas, it may be Götterdämmerung time for American poetry. Still, we can take heart from the fact that the French Académie eventually failed to stop the Impressionists. I'm confident that sooner or later, the purveyors of mediocrity will fail. Meanwhile I'll pull Wotan and Fricka and Levine down from the shelf and enjoy their excellent verse once again. Who knows? Having just turned 70, I may still be here when Siegfried and Brunhilde come on stage and the next poetic revolution begins.

Personally, I still reserve hope of being the different savior or even an incarnation of Eliot's il miglior fabbro. Any poet worth his/her salt does. Because I was away from poetry for a full fourteen years, I like to believe that I returned fresh. Lamentably, George Oppen, who few mention these days, returned very fresh following twenty years in the wilderness.

For me, the idea of poetry movements or of a poet's recognizable style are not what make poems or poets new. I pride myself in not attempting to practice a definable "Coletti" style. I'm constantly changing.

The "new," the "different," or the "great" have little to do with line length, great ideas, or with how much white space a poem has or hasn't. The greatness or even the newness of a poem or of a poet are qualities as evanescent as poetry itself.

Thank you once again, David Alpaugh, for your rich contributions filled with the stuff of thought, reflection, controversy, and call for response.

Press here for the Full Alpaugh Article

Comment or Read Comments Here on any of the above or below. Log in under "Name/URL," (it's easy). Just the name (don't worry about the URL). Actual name is best, but use what you like. Or email me at, and I can post it.

Makuuu Eckert

I received this wonderful email correspondence from friend and Sonoma County unique poet-character Mark Eckert currently teaching English in Korea.

Hello Mr. Coletti (or Edwardu as you would fondly be dubbed by the local bards),

I just wanted to drop a quick note from the middle of nowhere, Muan, South Korea. Think Point Reyes, Tomales Bay and Puget Sound along the southwest coast of Korea and you have some idea of my new environs. The difference here being rolling, dense forests of pine cypress and spruce intersperced with traditional orange green and blue pagoda roofed houses, burial tombs of the next of kin behind each. Throw in the ear piercing ratcheting of the yechi (cicada) and the brayings of the tofu ladies and gentlemen and you've got it.

Watch your step, Ed or you may find yourself knee deep in one of the surprise rice terraces so ubiquitous to Chungye gu as the local province is called.And should you slip up and find yourself sinking down into the mud, just start reciting some of that fine Round Barn verse of yours and some able bodied ajima (the brazen old farmer's wives who do ALL the heavy planting and lifting in Korea) will yank you out pronto!
Send Denner on over and I'll treat him to a mountaintop temple stay in Naju which is perched magnificently on a craggy Mt. Wolchusan due north of here. Then just to cover all the bases, we'll head down below to partake of the statue of the Virgin Mary that reportedly has been weeping real tears for the past year or so. Actually, that might be more for the great Italian poet saint himself,

Tell Mr. Madgelan I will be e-mailing him next. All the best to Joyce.


Mark (er, Makuuu) Eckert

Comment or Read Comments Here on any of the above or below. Log in under "Name/URL," (it's easy). Just the name (don't worry about the URL). Actual name is best, but use what you like. Or email me at, and I can post it.

Wonderful App For Poets

Featured in the Sept/Oct 2011 issue of Poets & Writers, this app works wonderfully well, and I especially enjoy the category permitting searches directly by poet name, but all the features are very useful and fun.

The Poetry Foundation’s free POETRY app promises to turn your iPhone into a portable library of verse. A shake of your device reveals a random collection of poems, catalogued under intersecting themes, with various emotions and sensations—Anger, Insecurity, Joy, Optimism, and Boredom, for example—paired with topics such as Life, Youth, Celebrations, Nature, Spirituality, and Arts and Sciences. Once you’ve hit on a theme, you can call up poems by literary luminaries such as Robert Creeley, Emily Dickinson, T. S. Eliot, and Pablo Neruda, and contemporary writers including Rosmarie Waldrop, Kevin Young, and Matthew Zapruder, some featuring audio of poets reading their work. A tap of the star icon below each title adds a poem to your personal favorites list, and poems can be promoted via Twitter, Facebook, or e-mail with a tap of the Share button.

Comment or Read Comments Here on any of the above or below. Log in under "Name/URL," (it's easy). Just the name (don't worry about the URL). Actual name is best, but use what you like. Or email me at, and I can post it.


Jannie Dresser said...

Mr. Alpaugh continues to rag on poetry teachers and people going to school to learn more about their art. But, putting comments about that to the side, I wonder why he neglects the most exciting movement for many of us which was the incredible outburst of creative energy and writing by women following the lib movement of the 1970s. Or maybe these poets are so easily dismissed as purely "confessional." Then, there is the vibrant slam/out-loud movement (not my cup of tea but it has brought many to poetry).

The fear that poetry is in a rut or dying as an art is totally unfounded. It's always been an art passionately possessed by its own practitioners more than a mass art like music. Worrying about who and what is getting awards or being published seems very limiting when one considers how many small publishers, writing groups, and, yes, MFA programs, are bringing poets together, communally to celebrate and practice.

Luci Edwards said...

Hi Ed and all the poetry makers and readers out there. My question is, is there too much poetry. Has the MFA poetry machine produced a glut on the market? It would seem that for some time now poetry has been churned out by the college and university programs and workshops and writers' retreats at a ferocious rate. Have we made that all too American mistake of replacing quality with quantity? I am convinced that there as many good new/young poets out there as ever but they are suffocating under a wave of thousands who win this inconsequential prize or that equally inconsequential contest. The desire to publish, publish, not to polish, polish, polish or for that matter just let out a huge Whitmanesque YAWP is overwhelming. In the past an established poet, if so inclined, might take a handful or even less young people under their wing from which they eventually flew on their own merits.
The cosseting of young people who see themselves as possible poets and can string a few, often very dry, lines together is in tune with our present society where the young are so frequently cosseted. As with all art, poetry needs to be heartfelt. Learning the rules of the art/craft of poetry is not a bad thing but does not a poet make. As for "great" poets of a generation, it is hard to tell. We so often settle for clever or nice or pleasant or well-wrought. Yes, well-wrought but lacking conviction.
The other thought is that by imitating their teachers, many of whom are mediocre poets themselves, they perpetuate mediocracy. Mind you, there are a whole slew of poets which go unmentioned in the article and who are damned good.
And, I think you have to be really pissed off to kick over the traces of any art form. Where are all the angry young men and women. Are they still allowed to be angry?
The final question is, are there still poets out there who can write their own poem without being given a topic, like a term paper. Where are you, the poets who write from your own devastating concern.

David Alpaugh said...

Jannie Dresser:

Did you actually READ "Götterdämmerung for American Poetry?"

If so you missed the following which hardly supports your charge that I dismiss "purely confessional" poetry:

“Anne Sexton joined them a year later with “To Bedlam and Part Way Back.” And by 1962 Sylvia Plath was at work on the poems that would appear posthumously in “Ariel and Other Poems,” a collection that would have as much impact as any volume of 20th century verse.”

My ringing tribute to "the lib movement of the 70's" already appeared in “The Professionalization of Poetry." Must I repeat it in every new essay?

“The parity women achieved that brought us so much fresh poetry in the last half of the 20th century was accelerated by the burgeoning writing programs of the ‘60s and ‘70s. And the university’s commitment to affirmative action further enriched poetry by nurturing talented poets of ethnic background who at an earlier time in American literary history might have been underrated or ignored.”

As for "Alpaugh continues to rag" on teachers and students (I have been both myself!) you apparently missed this, also from "Professionalization":

“Nor should we forget that many genuine lovers of poetry are teaching, editing, and evaluating their students and colleagues responsibly. Many nonprofessionals have attended their workshops and conferences, taken their poetry courses, and even completed MFA programs. In many cases they have become more seriously committed and their poetry has improved.”

I would never say, as you imply I do, something so silly as "poetry" “is a dying art”—but, then, you didn’t notice that my title comes with a question mark. Nor did you notice that “I’m confident" that (like the French Academie) the purveyors of mediocrity will fail” and that I look forward “to the next poetic revoution.”

Back in 1910, Rebecca West called for a “more effective” “school of criticism" to counter the “chorus of weak cheers” and “piping note of appreciation” that lead to mediocrity in writing. You appear to be offended because I am not an uncritical cheerleader for Po-Biz. To that charge I proudly plead guilty.

I write my essays to bring serious issues to the attention of poets and publish them, not in blogs, but in publications juried by thoughtful editors looking for persuasive arguments supported by verifiable facts.

A little more reading before commenting would be appreciated!