Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Important to Whom?

Important to Whom?  Indeed. These are the questions we like to toss at ourselves about artists (poets / musicians, etc). So, in that vein, Anis Shivani asked 22 poets who they consider the most important poet of our time.


I admit that such a question would have twisted me into a pretzel. My favorite poet, maybe? The poet I think is the most popular? The poet I think has had the most influence on other poets? What sort of influence (as a writer or editor or administrator)?

Certainly in the political sphere, Dana Gioia has had a large impact (as have the poet-editors of Poetry Magazine and The Best American Poetry series as well as the poet-administrators of Breadloaf). Billy Collins and Mary Oliver sell more books than pretty much any other poets. And John Ashbery’s poetry has certainly had the most influence on younger poets (I’d nominate him for King of the Cats), while at the same time, his poetry is reviled by large numbers of people who comment on such things as The Huffington Post . . . and what about the Poet Laureates? The Pulitzer Prize winners? They could all be said to be our most “important” poets (at least in the American segment of the question).

Important. Important to whom?  Maybe the answer is that we (as a collective) do not have a most important poet.  At the very least, there’s not really an answer to “importance.” It’s interesting, though, to see what people say.


At 12/21/2010 11:07 AM, Blogger Julio de Luna said...

Stillivid in the battle-ash,
berries hover like balls
above the asleeping
heads of young jugglers,
an impossible number
and all of them red,
the only color in this land
scape of ash. Berries:
little periods of blood
the color of periodblood.

- de Luna

At 12/21/2010 2:11 PM, Blogger Andrew Shields said...

Well, how about "important to you, John Gallaher"? Can you answer that one?

Or did you, when you called Ashbery "King of the Cats" here? I'm intrigued that you used the exact same phrase that a friend of mine used a decade or so about Ashbery! Does he have a poem called that? :-)

At 12/21/2010 2:49 PM, Anonymous Eric A said...

I find these questions of importance and bestness entertaining when in an interactive environment, like a bar or blog... not the printed page, award anthology, etc...

It's fun to learn who reads who a bit too much, and why.

For me, it's Peter Gizzi. I have an uncomfortably need to live in his longer poems (Revival, The Outernational, Another Day On The Pilgrimage, etc...) at least once a day.

At 12/21/2010 3:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I think John has answered that over and over again, actually. Armantrout and Ronk, for two. Ashbery, as a sort of visceral background music.

And thanks, Eric, for putting it that way: "importance" = "an uncomfortable need to live in his [or her] longer [or shorter] poems...at least once a day." Some poets, or poems, become part of one's mental furniture. In that sense, indispensable, or at least inescapable. Which is not the same as "liking," per se.


At 12/21/2010 7:05 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


"an uncomfortable need to live in his [or her] . . . poems"

That's just it! And it's personal. So, indeed, important to me.

But important in a general sense, I feel unqualified to answer.


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