Saturday, November 06, 2010

Who Would You Put in the Canon?

It’s a question poetry readers like to ask each other. If you were the king of Parnassus, who would you invite to the anthology table? Or, to be a little less bombastic about it, if you were putting together the next big contemporary anthology, what poets would you include? Who are the best poets writing today?

And, more precisely, who are the poets who haven’t already been recognized by large anthology inclusion and awards, who you feel should?

Rae Armantrout has, for years, been my first answer to such questions, and while she still hasn’t been included in most of the major contemporary poetry anthologies (so she still technically counts as an answer), she has now gotten enough attention and awards, that I feel that argument’s been made.

So, who’s next at bat? What poets and books and single poems are the reading list for the last ten years? (In the way that I've argued [as have others] that Michael Palmer's "Notes for Echo Lake 4" is one of the key poems of the end of the 20th Century.) Matthew Zapruder's "American Linden"? Kay Ryan's "The Niagara River"?

And I’m not looking for the cynical answer, the kind of insider-trading answer people often fall into. I’m really interested in what poets you feel should be our common currency. Who would you think everyone who reads poetry should read and appreciate? And if not appreciate, as that would be too much to ask, how about deal with. In the way that no matter what people think of John Ashbery, one has to deal with the fact that he's there, in the way that no matter what one thinks of T.S. Eliot, he looms. 

When mentioning a poet, if you have a few titles of poems to offer, that would also be nice. Thank you very much.

People have been making cases for Dean Young and Cole Swensen over the past few years. Mary Jo Bang is often talked about as well. And Mary Ruefle. Matthew Zapruder has been mentioned to me a lot recently. And of course, there’s been a big push for Kay Ryan for several years, so much so, that although she hasn’t yet won the biggest awards (I’m sure she’ll win the Pulitzer soon), I have seen her included in a couple of the big anthologies. That seems a done deal. Again, who would you vote for?

Here’s a vote from me: Ron Padgett.


Remember, you can respond anonymously. I promise it will be a civil comment stream. You’re just a click away:

Addendum 1:

I was thinking about United States poetry when I posted this, as the anthologies I've been looking at all bill themselves as some version of Introduction to American Poetry or Contemporary American Poetry and are used primarily in college courses on American literature, but, as you'll see from the comment stream, Kent Johnson is all over my case about that assumption. So, when thinking about this question, you can think of U.S. poets as well as any version of "UK, NZ, Australia, Canada, Carribean nations, African nations" poets writing in any version of World English you choose.

Whew. I hope that covers it.

Addendum 2:

It didn't even come close to covering it.

Just saying.


At 11/06/2010 10:12 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

>if you were putting together the next big contemporary anthology, what poets would you include? Who are the best poets writing today?<

You only name USA poets, John, in your examples. So do you mean "Who are the best *U.S.* poets writing today"?

I ask, as one of our national poetic problems, arguably, is that we tend to think "Our" poetry is the apex of all things, the main tree, value's default setting, and so forth. To the point where when we ask for What's Important we don't even bother to specify what the borders are! Nor bother to explain, when we do "patriotically" demarcate them, why we would want to draw the boundary in the first place... It's like a given.

Contemporary avant UK poetry, for instance (to stick to English) is, generally speaking, so much more energetic and intriguing than the USA version, but I swear it's like it doesn't even exist for younger U.S. poets. It's really quite amazing, the LALALALA nature of the hands-over-ears phenomenon in this regard.

At 11/06/2010 10:23 AM, Blogger Justin Evans said...

Gary Short.

At 11/06/2010 10:31 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Certainly, I apologize for what might seem a bias. I'm asking about "U.S." poets. The anthologies I'm thinking about are all called things like: "Introduction to American Literature" and such. (And by "American" they mean "U.S.")

I will agree that many interesting things are going on world-wide, and I can even imagine that they are more interesting than what's happening in the states, but it is, for the purposes of what I'm thinking about.

I'm drawn to Emmanuel Hocquard, myself, though my French is not good. I also like Göransson's Aase Berg quite a bit. Both those poets should be more read and talked about here. But I'd like to keep that question from the US question, as they are, as things stand, different anthologies. Arbitrary as that might be.

At 11/06/2010 10:36 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I thought you were making that name up, and then I googled it. No matter how well-read I think I am, I'm continually finding people I've not heard of.

At 11/06/2010 11:15 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Oh, I say the time for "American" poetry canons has passed.

I really mean that. You know, the avant UK poets don't really care about nationalistic boundaries. Actually, they laugh at them. We might take a lesson. "Our" poetry would be the better for it.

At 11/06/2010 12:09 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


There's always a boundary. If not nation, then aesthetic or content or language. But yes, I agree with your basic point that poetry is more interesting than American poetry.

Again, though, it's difficult to talk about things without boundaries, for, even as you say "the avant UK poets" you're grouping them, and therefore excluding, say, some fascinating Swedish poets.

So, I'll make you a deal, why don't you read the question as "World Poetry" and then give me a couple names? I'm interested, even if The Academy of American Poets would find themselves in a quandry.

At 11/06/2010 12:16 PM, Blogger Meredith said...

Rose Kelleher - "Neanderthal Bone Flute." A really outstanding modern sonnet. I think it should be anthologized all over the place.

At 11/06/2010 12:37 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

>Again, though, it's difficult to talk about things without boundaries, for, even as you say "the avant UK poets" you're grouping them, and therefore excluding, say, some fascinating Swedish poets. <

Hey John,

I'm saying *English-language* avant poetry. U.S., UK, NZ, Australia, Canada, Carribean nations, African nations... At least *that* as some kind of expanded boundary for what we talk about when we talk about "our" poetry. At least that as a *gesture.* Used to be such deconstruction of national regard was a principle with the "avant-garde."

Why do we keep talking about "American"? What IS the point? Don't you think such narrow focus only helps keep us more stupid?

Here's a starting point: The Chicago Review special issue on new UK poetry, from Spring '07. This was a big event, actually, a call by these poets and critics for across-the-pond engagement and debate, and NOT A SINGLE BLOG hereabouts even commented on it. Silliman, he of near-xenophobic American Tree, totally silent on it. Everyone else, too. Completely bizarre... And for seeing some of this new work any issue of Rich Owens's Damn the Caesars journal, which more than any other U.S. publication has consistently sought to bridge the artificial gap. And the recent Oxford anthology edited by Keith Tuma has lots of these new poets, too.

At 11/06/2010 1:11 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I didn't comment on it because I didn't know it existed. Send it to me and I'll read it.

I'm fine with calling World English the boundary. OK, then:

"If you were putting together the next big contemporary WORLD ENGLISH poetry anthology, what poets would you include? Who are the best poets writing today?"

At 11/06/2010 1:12 PM, Blogger Archambeau said...

The question "who would you put in your anthology" is becoming simultaneously obsolete and deeply relevant, isn't it?

For one thing, the idea of canon-making via anthology seems less and less viable. I mean, any schmuck can start a press and put out an anthology (and many schmucks do). So the idea of exclusivity is eroding. Also, so much poetry is available online one way or another, that another old anthology function (as a kind of sampler) is less important than it once was.

On the other hand, if everyone can be an anthologist, and the old functions are either fading (the sampler idea) or under philosophical attack ("the best that has been thought and said" etc), then the question of criteria becomes worthwhile.

I think if we approach the question at the level of "who would you put in there," though, we won't make much headway. All those proper names will just be saying "people whose work I admire" or (in the less creditable cases) "people I went to grad school with and with whom I wish to get some quid pro quo going."

Not that I have any answers. Alan Golding probably has some good ones. Or Jed Rasula.


At 11/06/2010 1:22 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...


Yeah, I'd rather not, and for reasons Bob A. put;s well.

Here's an entry from the new _Works and Days of the feneon collective_ that seems sort of apropos (it's probably the longest one in the book):

The thief Godin snuck in. Seeing M. Hoover and Mme Chernoff weeping in embrace, the former babbling that the Norton Anthology of Postmodern Poetry betrayed everything he’d stood for, O God, O God, what have I done, etc., the intruder turned away. Softly behind him, he closed the door.

At 11/06/2010 1:32 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Actually, here are a couple more from the book that concern "anthologies":

Where does poetry stop and sociology begin (or vice versa)? With the figure on its cover of two silhouettes forming a vase (or vice versa), the anthology titled American Hybrid has appeared.

On President’s Day, 2009, the editor of In the American Tree announced his new discovery: Poetry has been written (and for quite some time!) in languages other than English.

At 11/06/2010 1:32 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Well, no matter how we find ways to smear out this question, there IS going to be a future, and people in that future are going to (hopefully) look back on our period (although I'm thinking right now I wouldn't encourage them to), and some of them will be interested in poetry (the poor saps). Somehow (I've no idea how), they are going to find some poets.

Who do we want to make sure gets added to the time capsule?

Besides all of us and whomever we went to grad school with.

Is it a stupid question? Maybe it is after all. I didn't think so when I was thinking about it yesterday looking at the big row of American literature anthologies on the shelf in my office.

At 11/06/2010 1:39 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I think you're a scaredy cat.

The intruder enters for a reason, and is already implicated by being present. And by present, I totally mean in the birthday way, with a stamp, addressed to a literary journal, and hoping to use the front door next time.

At 11/06/2010 1:42 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...


You're welcome to your reading, there. But that's not me. In fact, I haven't submitted poems to a ltierary journal sans direct invitation for years!

At 11/06/2010 1:46 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


The you're using the front door. Welcome! Drinks are at seven.

At some point some editors sat around and made lists of whom to call, and you were on that list. Little name tag next to the plate. Lists are made. People get on them. Otherwise there would be no invitations.

Come back later and post a name or two anonymously! If you don't, I will, pretending I'm you.

I'm off to google Avant UK!

At 11/06/2010 1:46 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Actually, that last is not quite true. I DID submit a poem to Poetry over a year ago, on their electronic submissions thing. The piece had a bunch of bad language in it, attacking Poetry Magazine and the whole Po-Biz industry. They rejected it.

At 11/06/2010 1:51 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...


In looking, check this out, by me, at the soon-to-go-under Digital Emunction: "The New British School." The post has 144 comments!

At 11/06/2010 1:52 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I hope they got a good laugh out of it though, that you'd send it to them. If I worked there (which I never will, of course, but just saying), I would enjoy that.

A little veil of slings and arrows is good for the arbitrary divide. It shows one where to winterize.

At 11/06/2010 1:53 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

But isn't "British School" the very thing ou were just arguing against?

At 11/06/2010 2:12 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

>But isn't "British School" the very thing ou were just arguing against?

That's a fair question. But I think the piece sort of throws the term into ironic relief, in different ways.

At 11/06/2010 2:20 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I like how you take a stand:

"...the New British Poetry shows itself, as col­lec­tive phe­nom­e­non, to be in the main more autonomous, sophis­ti­cated, provoca­tive, var­i­ous, ambi­tious, and polit­i­cally aggres­sive than most work out of the U.S. “post-​avant,” which has for greater part become (does anyone still doubt it?) tightly teth­ered in faster and ever-​closer cir­cuit to a mys­te­ri­ous, sacred Pole of pro­fes­sional ambi­tion and well-​mannered protocol."

And make a list of names:

"Keston Suther­land, Andrea Brady, Chris Goode, Mar­i­anne Morris, Peter Manson, Emily Critch­ley, Stuart Calton, Neil Pat­ti­son, Jeremy Hard­ing­ham, Jow Lind­say, Michael Kindel­lan, Matt Ffytche, Tom Jones, Jeff Hilson, Sean Bonney, Tim Atkins, Sophie Robin­son, Frances Kruk, and Jonty Tiplady. Justin Katko and Ryan Dobran just this week moved back home from the US and will no doubt help fan the fires.

Poets a bit older (though more in the sense that James Schuyler was older than John Ash­bery) include Ian Pat­ter­son, John Wilkin­son (presently in U.S.), cris cheek (ditto), Drew Milne, Alan Halsey, Simon Jarvis (with Suther­land one of the major crit­i­cal voices of the group), Rod Meng­ham, Andrew Duncan, and Kevin Nolan (whom Suther­land and others con­sider per­haps the unsung great writer of the new UK poetry).

And younger poets in their early 20s, too, just start­ing out but already involved in the scenes and get­ting noticed: Josh Stan­ley, Luke Roberts, Tim Thorn­ton, Mike Wallace-​Hadrill, Francesca Lisette…"

So why'd you make me work for it?


At 11/06/2010 2:27 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

John, I'd actually forgotten I'd done wrote the piece until after we started talking!

At 11/06/2010 2:33 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

I'd also forgotten how mean I was to Flarf and Conceptual poetry in there... Those erstwhile moddish (now fast-fading) Mandarin manifestations of poetic naughtiness.

At 11/06/2010 2:55 PM, Blogger Delia Psyche said...



doesn't exist. But
if it did, they wouldn't
put me in it.

At 11/06/2010 3:11 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Sorry, but on Knott, this entry in the feneon collective book:

For many years, M. Knott has been denied his proper due. Wearing a wedding gown and waving goodbye to those below, he flew his home-kit biplane far out to sea. Search suspended.

At 11/06/2010 4:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

He's not young, nor utterly unknown, but given how a case can be made that he's majorly major, I vote for Jay Wright. Too, what about Haryette Mullen?

adam strauss

At 11/06/2010 5:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michael Hofmann, Andrew Hudgins, Alan Shapiro, Richard Kenney--these folks have won some major awards and been finalists for some monsters, but they are rarely if ever anthologized.

At 11/06/2010 5:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Funny you should mention Cole Swensen. I was just talking about her the other day. She writes good books without writing poems that stand all that well on their own.

She also has the problem now that she's more well known for American Hybrid than for her poetry -- outside of a coterie. She's like a lot of editors and bloggers (like you -- no disrespect intended) who are more known for things other than writing poems.

At 11/06/2010 5:49 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


At 11/06/2010 6:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kent, I think you're ignoring the impact of ecopoetics. Are you arguing that Keston Sutherland (say) throws Dan Bouchard (say) in "ironic relief"? Or vice versa?

At 11/06/2010 7:15 PM, Blogger Jeff Alessandrelli said...

Did Alan Dugan ever make it? I always liked his work, although I don’t think it's read very often anymore. I’ll say Christian Hawkey and Mary Ruefle.

At 11/06/2010 8:17 PM, Blogger Jeannine said...

What about customizable anthologies, electronically put together by each professor for their class, for instance? That would be great! Do you think they'll have that soon? I can't find a single anthology I'd really like to teach with. And here's my list:
--Louise Gluck (already famous, but you mentioned Rae, so...)
--Oliver de la Paz
--Matthea Harvey
--Aimee Nezhukumatathil
--Ilya Kaminsky
--Olena Katyliak Davis
--Tyehimba Jess
--Major Jackson
--Denise Duhamel
--Jericho Brown
--Dorianne Laux
--Kim Addonizio
--Kristy Bowen
--Rebecca Loudon
--Mary Biddinger
--Margaret Atwood (already famous, again, but...)
--Sandra Alcosser
--Kelli Russell Agodon
--Karyna McGlynn
--Lesle Lewis
--Kimiko Hahn
--Amy Uyematsu
--Richard Siken
--Steve Fellner
--Suzanne Frischkorn
--K. Lorraine Graham
--Jessica Smith
There are more, but that's off the top...

At 11/07/2010 6:33 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Just to throw a forthcoming anthology into the mix, and it's just one selection, obviously. My name is on there, a surprise to me, but what could it mean? These things are absolutely contingent, necessarily limited, and provisional, all part of a morphing glob, like some huge lava lamp (come to think, that's not a bad trope for the "Canon": A giant lava lamp). But here are the contributors for an anthology being prepared for publication (bilingual, of course) in (oddly) both Brazil and the Balkans, titled--you wouldn't see this title in the U.S.--Ten Significant American Poets. (Weinberger's presence is interesting. People abroad read his recent strange "essays" as poetry with no problem. He's one of the unmentionables, of course, in the "post-avant" world.)

Forrest Gander
Matthea Harvey
Brenda Hillman
Harvey Hix
Kent Johnson
Ben Lerner
Cole Swensen
Arthur Sze
Eliot Weinberger
CD Wright

At 11/07/2010 6:47 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

OK, I'll bite:

Farid Matuk.

At 11/07/2010 7:25 AM, Blogger Ryan Sanford Smith said...

I'm going to give two answers because I already know one of them is going to get laughed out of the room (one reason I think important to put it out there):

Tao Lin's first book of poetry, 'you are a little bit happier than i am' because despite accusations of his being one big gimmick, etc. ('he's kitsch, ignore him!') the stuff is, at least to me, somehow insanely, genuinely honest despite being wrapped up a kind of very distant affect, and I think that's both very intriguing to work in / pull of as well as he has and an important kind of work to have to 'deal with' in poets coming out of Tao (and my) generation.

If nothing else that choice also selects my annoyance with the almost universally accepted assumption that poets in the chorus we're talking about are only taken even remotely serious (if ever) once they've started going grey or have ten books behind them.

My second and more palatable choice is Jon Anderson, 'The Milky Way: Poems 1967-1982". He has some awards (including an NBA nomination) but like others mentioned, certainly isn't held in any contemporary canon that I've seen--I can't even find a copy of this book anymore, it must be out of print.

At 11/07/2010 8:08 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Now there’s a list as argument. I’m especially glad to see Cole Swensen there. Ahem. I’d love to see the TOC sometime. Do you know what is in it?


I think Tao Lin is someone we all have to deal with. It’s a version of life imitating hoax or something. I was rather shaken by it when I first read it, halfway between amusement and hostility. I wonder what his work is going to look like when he’s 60.

There is a tendency that poets “are only taken even remotely serious (if ever) once they've started going grey or have ten books behind them.” The joke, of course, is at that point they’re mostly applauded for their early work. Wallace Stevens is a good example. It took a long time for that to catch on. On the other hand, James Tate entered right away. And Sylvia Plath was pretty quick too, but being dead helped.

I like the viewpoint toward this sort of thing as less who is the best, but who do we have to deal with. Tao Lin and Zachary Schomburg and Rachel Zucker would be on that list, I would think. Not that I don't think they're good (or the best or whatever). I'm just saying.

At 11/07/2010 8:12 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Thanks for the long list. I like the fact that I've not heard of a couple of them.

PS. Don't let Steve Fellner see it! He thinks no one likes him.

At 11/07/2010 8:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From what some people call the post avant, these are the ones people seem to talk about the most:

Dan Beachy-Quick
Peter Gizzi
Noah Eli Gordan
Brenda Hillman
Lisa Jarnot
Laura Mullen
D.A. Powell
Cole Swensen
Matthew Zapruder

At 11/07/2010 8:31 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

>Now there’s a list as argument.

No, John... I'm not making any "argument" there. It's not MY list, after all.

True, anthologies can be seen as arguments that start withering soon as they get made. Flowers in the field, as it were.

My point, if anything, is that these selections (including your own urge to stimulate them here) are simultaneously meaningless *and* indispensable to the total system's function.

I proposed something along those broad lines not too long ago in an essay on Steve Evans's silly Attention Span rankings. Of course, I totally poached from Bourdieu...

At 11/07/2010 8:47 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Forgive me for posting so much, but I love this topic.

As to the list just posted by "Anonymous," I have the fabulous new feneon collective book in front of me... There are entries on each of those poets. Here's one:

Some things do get rather loud: Nineteen times running, an experimental poet’s bio has announced to readers that “He is author of the book Novel Pictorial Noise (selected by John Ashbery for the National Poetry Series).”

At 11/07/2010 8:52 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I didn't sat it was your argument! If it was your argument, that would be, as my kids say about pretty much everything, creepy.

Maybe having oneself in this feneon collective book is canon criteria?

At 11/07/2010 8:59 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

>Maybe having oneself in this feneon collective book is canon criteria?

Indeed, it's the paradox of satire: that the act of lampooning also renders homage...

At 11/07/2010 9:24 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

One thing I should note, in regards to the feneon collective: In their book, I get mocked myself three different times!

At 11/07/2010 9:26 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

“His reputation as a literary figure is forever assured,” said Mme Perloff, in tears.

At 11/07/2010 9:35 AM, Anonymous Eric A. said...

A few poets/poems I keep close by that make me feel starched in a beautifully American stink:

Andrew Zawacki - Georgia
Ben Lerner – Topekan Ethos
Peter Gizzi – The Outernationale
Rachel Zucker – To Save America

At 11/07/2010 10:40 AM, Blogger Michael Theune said...

Hi, John,

Do we have to canonize poets? Why not poems? (As it seems Meredith (above) does with mention of Kelleher's sonnet--indeed, a good sonnet.)

I know canonizing poems has its own problems, but still... Isn't pointing to particular poems somehow more accurate than pointing to poets...? Frankly, I believe that the practice of focusing on poets has been the source of many of the problems with the recent publications of hybrid anthologies...

And, Kent, wouldn't such (granted, still problematic) canonization go some distance to counteract the A[uthor]-effect?


At 11/07/2010 10:43 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Sounds good to me. I feel that way about many poems, including the Palmer and Zapruder I mentioned in the post.

Ball's back in your court:

At 11/07/2010 1:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why is everyone only listing those in the so-called post-avant. Wouldn't we want a diversity--esp. some poets who have at least some concern for craft? I thought this was a "Contemporary Anthology." What about some young formalists? Greg Williamson, for instance.

At 11/07/2010 1:32 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


People list what they think of. But to be precise, there are many non-avants listed so far from Jeannine and Justin and Meredith. I even mentioned Kay Ryan! That's pretty inclusive for me!

The comment stream does, in total, lean toward those avants, however, which is due to I suppose the sort of people who read this blog.

But now we have Williamson!

At 11/07/2010 1:47 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

"For many years, M. Knott has been . . . wearing a wedding gown"

anybody who knows me knows i prefer black skirts when i dress in drag—
with black thighhighs, maybe a pink blouse, but white? wedding gown? you're confusing me with Stanley Plumly—

anyway, as insults go, it's not as noogy as this one:

"People claim Bill Knott was the inspiration for punk." —Eileen Myles, p. 69, Inferno (A Poet's Novel), 2010.

—ow! now that hurts . . .

At 11/07/2010 5:31 PM, Blogger marybid said...

The next new, big anthology, you say?

At 11/07/2010 5:33 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I was curious what people would say. I like the idea of having it be about poems not poets. It reminds me a bit of what FIELD does.

At 11/07/2010 5:33 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I liked punk.

At 11/07/2010 9:40 PM, Blogger Delia Psyche said...

Isn't there still punk, if only in goth or the hipster collage? And wasn't/isn't punk a revival of Beat, which was a continuation of the individualistic, épater-les-bourgeois attitude of all the Dandies and Decadents and Poe-Baudelaireans and Poètes Maudits and Surrealists and Subterraneans and Transcendentalists and Non-conformists who preceded Burroughs et al.? Poetry is a mouth, as Auden says, and punk keeps cropping up on it like oral herpes.

At 11/08/2010 7:59 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Hi Mike,

Interesting question. I know your own critical focus has been in this "close-reading" direction, with your terrific Structure and Surprise book and also the collaborative study you've begun on reading formations and evaluation, if that's the description--first part of that study coming out soon, I think?

I'm all for a more bracketed axiology, we need it, and I applaud you. But I honestly can't see it resulting in any great unsettling of the Author-effect, whose grip on the poetic field, mainline through avant (whatever those terms anymore mean), is more vise-like than ever. I mean, you know things have gotten tight when someone like Ron Silliman excitedly proclaims, with no apparent sense of irony or regret, the Signature as vital "Brand" that gives the poetic product identity and guarantee... No, the A-effect is what surrounds us, it's the air we breathe. Or the water we gulp, whatever. Actually, its grip is probably tighter on the avant side of things, presently, given the ascendancy in past decade of "post-avant" professionalizing dynamics, a process now more or less wrapped up. I know I'm mixing my metaphors.

But for instance, take the annual anthology called The Best American Poetry, purportedly a selection of the finest poems written in the year. Is this "poem-centered" project against the grain of the Author Function? Clearly not, I gather you'd agree. To the contrary, it's but a periodic, bulbous excrescence of it: beneath the table of contents lies a whole messy mycelium of editorial positioning, sub-group formation, professional favoring, personal connections, junk-bond trading, compensation-seeking, turf-building, retributive exclusions, and ritualized courtship at the AWP. Most of which has to do with the cultural unconscious, to be sure--no one's really in control, no one's to "blame."

One holds the anthology in one's hands and it seems innocent enough, surely. Why, it's just a book of good poems! But the BAP (though it's just one case of Author-based institutional selection and ranking sheathed in a fake Vaseline of "disinterestedness") is a somewhat disturbing case, I think, of the Author-Function incarnate, popped up from institutionalized darkness and then seeding the ground with its Po-Biz spores. Attention Span, which I earlier mentioned: that's another sneaky fungus in the Field. Don't get me started on Poetry Competitions... (Younger Poets! Boycott Poetry Competitions! Take a stand! I'm serious.)

Now, I know your question has lots more in it to pursue. And I'm getting a bit carried away with my tropes, as usual. But I really do believe--if there's to be any possibility of breakthrough into really new modes of poetic proceeding--that collective *authorial experiment and trial* will be needed to in any way destabilize Official Verse relations of production and exchange, which, again, are perfectly identical from "mainstream" to "avant" (an identity, incidentally, that makes a denouement development like the current Poetry Magazine possible). But to talk about making "non-poetic" paratext a realm of imaginative investigation seems currently to most like science fiction, I'm aware.

Though not to everyone: There's an interesting new group of five anonymous poets (from four different countries) called The Rejection Group. Their first poem, quite bizarre, is in the premier issue of Sous les Paves, a fabulous newsletter project that sets out to do battle with slick, shiny poetry journals.

At 11/08/2010 8:09 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I'm convinced that this A-effect you mention, which we see everywhere around us and have for as long as there has been people, could be mitigated by having the editor be anonymous.

When proposing the question on the blog here the other day, I was expecting people to reply anonymously with names (or poems) they sincerely believed in.

I believe such a project could produce a very strong anthology, if a press would go along with the "anon" editor(s) idea.

At 11/08/2010 9:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Poets I Like:

Zach Savich
Zachary Schomberg
Matthew Zapruder
Nick Twemlow
Daniel Khalastchi
Shane McCrae
Mary Ruefle
Mark Rahe
Dora Malech
Aliki Barnstone
Tadeusz Rozewicz
Kelli Russell Agodon
Jericho Brown
Bruce Cohen
T.S. Eliot
Ezra Pound
Brandon Shimoda
Ted Berrigan
Marianne Moore
Dean Young
Rae Armantrout
Barbara Guest
Cole Swensen
Marvin Bell
Sarah O’Brian
Nick Lantz
Lorine Niedecker
Louis Zukofsky
Muriel Rukeyser
Adrienne Rich
Frank O’Hara
Andrea Cohen
Paul Guest
George Oppen
William Carlos Williams
Stacie Cassarino
Michael Tyrell
Charles Simic
Floyd Skloot
A.V. Christie
Russel Edson
Stephen Kuusisto
Mahmoud Darwish
Nick Flynn
Rachel Contreni Flynn
Tony Hoagland
D.A. Powell
Major Jackson
Ted Kooser
Philip Schultz
Louise Gluck
Diane Lockward
Novica Tadic
Jehanne Dubrow
Alan Feldman
Stacey Lynn Brown
Eric Anderson
C.E. Giaimo
Brittany Ober
Paul Hostovsky
Walter Bargen
John Lindgren
Mark Kraushaar
Jaswinder Bolina
Dennis Casling
Trey Sager
Liz Robbins
Douglas Goetsch
Bob Hicok

At 11/08/2010 9:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Terrance Hayes, "Imaginary Poems for the Old-Fashioned Future"

At 11/08/2010 5:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

contemporary Anglophone poets, mostly with 2+ books out:

John Taggart
Anne Carson
Carl Phillips
Rosmarie Waldrop
Keith Waldrop
Geoffrey Hill
Alice Notley
Cole Swensen
Arthur Sze
Lyn Hejinian
Carla Harryman
Susan Howe
Alice Oswald
Medbh McGuckian
Brigit Pegeen Kelly
Myung-Mi Kim?
Eleni Sikelianos
Lisa Robertson
Merril Gilfillan
Erin Moure
Gustaf Sobin
Ed Roberson?
Dan Beachy-Quick
Sawako Nakayasu
Zach Savich
Zachary Schomburg
Terrance Hayes
Dana Levin
Rusty Morrison
Barbara Jane Reyes
Brian Teare
Karla Kelsey
John Keene
Andrew Joron
Sandy Florian
Julie Carr
Noah Eli Gordon
Evelyn Reilly
Nathalie Stephens

At 11/08/2010 5:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joseph Donahue.
Joseph Lease.

All of the Josephs.

At 11/08/2010 7:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Show me on the doll where the author function touched you.

At 11/08/2010 7:17 PM, Blogger Jeannine said...

Oh, and I left out so many good people! Want to second the suggestions of Dana Levin (one of my favorite poets! How could I forget her!) Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Rachel Zucker, and Paul Guest. All super duper poets.
See? That is the problem with these anthologies - too many great poets!

At 11/08/2010 7:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Show me on the doll where the author function touched you."

This is my favorite sentence in English, right now. I don't know what it means, but I like it.


At 11/09/2010 5:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I don't know what it means, but I like it."

This sentence goes well with it.

At 11/09/2010 6:41 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Of course we like how the A-touch feels. And partly, you know, because we "don't know what it means."

At 11/09/2010 7:49 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

I'd posted above a few entries from _Works and Days of the feneon collective_.

Here is the book's first review, today, by John Latta, at Isola di Rifiuti:

At 11/09/2010 1:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill Knott:
"Naomi Sold Out"
"Naomi the Virgin"
"Naomi's Aside"

At 11/10/2010 6:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kent Johnson

At 11/10/2010 6:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm confused. Do we mean canon or cannon?

At 11/10/2010 6:59 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Is there a difference?

At 11/10/2010 7:13 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

Lawrence Joseph's "The Game Changed" is pretty great.

At 11/11/2010 12:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ed Roberson and John Riley come to mind. Riley was one of the Cambridge poets; he died in 1978.

Also, ditto on Jay Wright.

At 11/11/2010 12:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gustaf Sobin and David Mutschlecner

At 11/11/2010 12:56 PM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

Amy King, Harryette Mullen, Lisa Jarnot, Peter Gizzi.


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