I’ve been giving a little thought to this and this, and the intro that spawned it. Now I have a bad reaction to the mention of Billy Collins anyhow (akin to hives)--so much bland, pre-packaged, quasi-humorous, vanilla ness. So I’m not sure I’m all that eager to purchase this year’s BAP, filled with the sort of stuff he seems to like.
But when I read his little break down of what’s good poetry to what’s crap, it made me snort, considering my ratio, at least among what’s typically published in the sorts of journals mined for BAP, would be more like 50/50, the bad fifty definitely being Collins and all the poets who write just like him. Admittedly, I’m not a real big fan of most of the work in the bigger, more popular, mostly academic journals precisely for their publishing poets like Collins. Yes, there are good poets in those journals, poets whose work is exciting, surprising, dynamic, but I have a hard time finding them amidst the sea of mediocrity, and usually only find them when I know to go looking. But I’m also aware that my qualifications for poetry to be good poetry are different from other peoples. I can respect that it IS subjective to a degree (mind you the “to a degree” part.) The blandness of language, the lack of imagery, texture, innovation, the predictable “I came, I saw, I wrote about it” attitude in a Collins-like poem turns me off. Maybe another reader wouldn’t be, depending on your tastes. (Though I‘d argue I have better taste..). When I say “This is crap” I mean of course, you’re free to argue why it’s not. It’s all sort of grey where the line is though, and on occasion I’ve found something to like in poets I might not think I would, and in work that I might readily dismiss. And there’s a large continuum between the truly awesome work, the begrudgingly okay, and really bad, terrible, never should have hit the page stuff.
So to dismiss that much poetry, standing on such shaky ground oneself, makes me revile Collins even more. Granted, he hints at the subjectivity of the process, later on (although I do wonder how much Lehman pulls the strings), but I assume he’s talking about the 17%--what he chose from that. And the argument is moot anyway, considering what’s published in those sorts of journals is probably about 20% of the poetry output of serious working poets, 2% the output of all poetry (the good the bad the ugly) written everywhere. Which leaves out A LOT of work, especially in more indie and online journals. But then since this poetry probably isn’t anything like his own (THANK GOD), it would no doubt be lumped in that other 83% .One thing I liked about Hejinian’s BAP a couple years ago, was it’s mining into unfamiliar territory (albeit a rather aesthetically langpo limited, east coast sort of territory) I’ll bet BC doesn’t know fuck about the amount of good , great, even competent poetry published in any given year in literary periodicals.
Grrr..I’ll let up on the invective to say that I hate the haters. The people who continually bemoan the fact there’s too many writing program, too many poets, too many journals, too many voices. That everyone who writes poems like me is groundbreaking and all the rest of you suck. I’m thinking there aren’t enough journals, aren’t enough presses to gather all the good work. I’m thinking there can never be too much poetry happening. I’m thinking I have my preferences when it comes to the work I choose to value, my criteria, but they are just that. Preferences. And I vote with my readership, don‘t I, the books I buy, the journals I choose to purchase, subscribe to, and even submit to. And that doesn’t necessarily make me hesitant to place things in a ranking system,but to always question the motives behind ranking and dismissal. Who’s ranking and based on what? BC amazingly skirts the issue here--his real criteria, which makes me think he doesn’t really have any…which explains alot….