Fashion Poetics IV Addendum

Poets.org's list of "Most Popular Contemporary Poets" for 2008:

1. Billy Collins
2. Gwendolyn Brooks
3. Charles Simic
4. Nikki Giovanni
5. Gary Soto
6. Allen Ginsberg
7. Kay Ryan
8. Rita Dove
9. Adrienne Rich
10. Naomi Shihab Nye
11. Mary Oliver
12. John Ashbery
13. Donald Hall
14. Louise Glück
15. Lucille Clifton
16. Sharon Olds
17. Yusef Komunyakaa
18. Sonia Sanchez
19. Jane Kenyon
20. Mark Strand

Sweet Jesus. Ginsberg? I love the guy, but he's not Contemporary. "Contemporary to what?" I suppose is the question.

Actually, let's take this a step further (from Dictionary.reference.com):

con⋅tem⋅po⋅rar⋅y   /kənˈtɛmpəˌrɛri/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [kuhn-tem-puh-rer-ee] Show IPA adjective, noun, plural -rar⋅ies.
–adjective 1. existing, occurring, or living at the same time; belonging to the same time: Newton's discovery of the calculus was contemporary with that of Leibniz.
2. of about the same age or date: a Georgian table with a contemporary wig stand.
3. of the present time; modern: a lecture on the contemporary novel.

–noun 4. a person belonging to the same time or period with another or others.
5. a person of the same age as another.

Let's go with #3, "of present time." This list is a Barnes and Noble list of poets and people that people have heard of. Brooks? Love her stuff. Dead. Not contemporary, I'm sorry to say.

I suppose this actually has little to do with the issue of 'difficult' poetry, other than having come directly from the previous posting's thoughts on canon. I suppose the only real point I could make here is that these are the people that end up in textbooks and in high school heads and ears. OK, so very few of these people are in textbooks, but the mentality is there. And I think the only reason some folks are on this list is because there are people who vote them up with no real interest in moving beyond a canon. They're interested in perpetuating the same group of people they've been thinking about and hearing about for the last 30 years.


Matt Walker said...

I've thought about that too--how long can you be dead before you're no longer contemporary? If Ginsberg were alive today, he'd be 82 and probably still writing.

If Apollinaire had eaten his Wheaties and stayed out of trouble, he could conceivably have lived to appear on Saturday Night Live, and could have been a contemporary poet at the same time that Lyn Hejinian was a contemporary poet.

Or you could have someone born the same year as Ginsberg, 1926, who published a book in, say, 1951, but then never wrote another word, and they could still be alive today. Because he's still alive, you could consider him more contemporary than dead Ginsberg, even though Ginsberg's most recent work would be decades closer to us than the work of the guy who stopped writing in '51 but who just happens to still be alive.

That's confusing, what I just said. Anyway,

speaking of people born in '26, O'Hara would also be 82 now, and just as contemporary as Ashbery, who actually almost died in 1982, in which case he would have become uncontemporary in, well, 1982.

While I'm at it, rounding out the old school New York School, I still think of Koch, Guest, and Schuyler as contemporary.

But I guess there are a lot of people who consider a poet contemporary merely if they were born after mutton chops went out of style.

summer girl said...

Why do I love this list? Because that non-poet/hack, Maya, is not on it!!!

Amish Trivedi said...

Matt: What happened to Ashberry in 82?

Summer girl: Maya who? The singer??

Ron said...

Actually, one could make a good case for the idea that Ginsberg is the only contemporary poet on that list

Amish Trivedi said...

You might be quite right, Ron :)