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America may be declining in every other way, but former poet laureate Charles Simic says poetry in this country is doing just fine :

Over the years, I had read too many essays by literary critics and even poets, which proclaimed confidently that poetry is universally despised and read by practically no one in United States. I recall my literature students rolling their eyes when I asked them if they liked poetry, or my old high school friends becoming genuinely alarmed upon learning that I still did. Patriotic, sentimental and greeting card verse has always been tolerated, but the kind of stuff modern poets write allegedly offends every one of those “real Americans” Sarah Palin kept praising in the last election.

During the time I served as the poet laureate, however, I found this not to be true. In a country in which schools seem to teach less literature every year, where fewer people read books and ignorance reigns supreme regarding most issues, poetry is read and written more than ever. Anyone who doesn’t believe me ought to take a peek at what’s available on the web. Who are these people who seem determined to copy almost every poem ever written in the language? Where do they find the time to do it? No wonder we have such a large divorce rate in this country. I won’t even describe the thousands of  blogs , the  on-line poetry magazines , both  serious ones and the ones where  anyone can post a poem their eight-year daughter wrote about the death of her goldfish . People who kept after me with their constant emails and letters were part of that world. They wanted me to announce what I propose to do to make poetry even more popular in United States. Unlike my predecessors who had a lot of clever ideas, like having a poetry anthology next to the Gideon Bible in every motel room in America (Joseph Brodsky), or urging daily newspapers to print poems (Robert Pinsky), I felt things were just fine. As far as I could see, there was more poetry being read and written than at any time in our history.

At a recent book sale at my local library, I bought 48 back issues of Poetry magazine. My plan was to read each one, cover-to-cover, in order to better familiarize myself with modern poetry. I suspected the project would be something that I didn’t enjoy but would recognize as good for me, the literary equivalent of eating cauliflower.

Before I had made it through the first issue, though, my attitude was completely changed. The poems were very, very good. Maybe not John Donne good. But certainly as good as other literary forms—essays, novels—being produced today.

I’m too woefully under-informed to say whether Simic is right. But if the poetry being produced today—especially that found in First Things —is any indication, we may indeed be in a golden age of American poetry.

(Via: The League of Ordinary Gentlemen )

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