Where have all the poets gone?

You’d expect there’d be a heck of a lot of them these days:

There’s zero barrier to entry with poetry — the rules for writing sonnets are right there, and not even the American educational system has so far managed to destroy literacy completely. If you want to go mano-a-mano with Shakespeare, your word processing program even comes with a dictionary and a thesaurus. There are 350+ million people in America today; Elizabethan England had maybe 3 million. Just as a matter of simple probability, there should be some world-class sonnet-writers around right now…

… but, of course, there aren’t, because sometime in the later 19th century our universities started awarding degrees in English Literature. You’ve got to justify all those years in grad school somehow, and so by the 1950s you had J. Evans Pritchard, PhD, laying down mathematical formulae for judging a poem’s excellence. And now only Diversity Pokemon write poetry. Seriously, can you even name a 20th century poet, let alone quote him?

I suppose I should consider myself fortunate that I have Facebook friends who will point me to contemporary verse without even the slightest hint of irony.

That said, the finest sonnet I ever wrote turned out to have only thirteen lines — though they were very good lines, I suspect. (It’s been a long time since I even tried to remember it.)


  1. fillyjonk »

    21 July 2017 · 2:53 pm

    though I wonder if the current fashion for wholesale disregard of rules (as being for squares, or something) is why we don’t.

    If I thought, I could probably name a few 20th C. poets, but most of them would be early-to-mid 20th C. (Langston Hughes, for example. Or Stevie Smith.)

    Robert Frost, dammit. I can even quote SOME Frost. (Though most of the poetry that clings tenaciously to my brain is, for some reason, what I learned in Dr. Pryce’s French class)

    (Are we sure the person in question didn’t mean 21st century?)

  2. CGHill »

    21 July 2017 · 2:57 pm

    I’ve read some verse by Billy Collins, who was poet laureate circa 2001.

  3. fillyjonk »

    21 July 2017 · 3:00 pm

    yeah, I was trying to recall his name. Not sure if I’ve read any of his work, though.

    I’m guessing Seamus Heaney was probably still writing in the 21st century.

  4. McG »

    21 July 2017 · 4:22 pm

    There once was a poet from Nantucket…

  5. CGHill »

    21 July 2017 · 5:14 pm

    Heaney’s last new collection apparently came out in 2010. (He died in 2013.)

  6. Mike aka Proof »

    21 July 2017 · 7:06 pm

    I see London, I see France,
    I see dark forces threaten the existence of humanity as we know it.

    How’s that?

  7. Francis W. Porretto »

    22 July 2017 · 7:14 am

    Charles, you’re an inspiration, as always.

  8. Bruce H. »

    23 July 2017 · 11:56 pm

    Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I even remembered how to spell his name.

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