Excerpted from the symposium on "American Writing Today:"
Whom should more poets follow, or at least contemplate? Again, in poetry: George Herbert, Christopher Smart, pre-1937 W.H. Auden, Basil Bunting, Donald Davie, James K. Baxter, post-1964 Robert Lowell. Among living writers, maybe Thylias Mass, Juan Felipe Herrera, Laura Kasischke, Liz Waldner. In poetry criticism: William Empson, Donald Davie.
What current modes clog the pipeline and tire me out? (1) Quasi-automatic writing and a kind of comic quasi-surrealism, especially when the author wants to be winning, funny, "entertaining," and shocking at the same time. (2) Slack free-verse autobiography; chatty anecdote without interesting form. (3) Endless zeroxes of '50s formalist poems, copies of Anthony Hecht and Howard Nemerov. (4) "Spirituality," which, pursued as a primary goal, tends to make poems sound like bad translations.
Most poets today are writing either for a coterie of readers they know personally, who want to participate in the social circulation of new work (rather than in the rereading of old work), or else (in part) for an academic market in which the more you publish (as long as it's in semiprestigious venues), the more your chances for tenure and promotion.
Both paradigns encourage overproduction. Younger poets, in particular, seem to rush things, to make public ten pounds of cookie dough when, had they waited, they might have had five pounds of tasty cookies. I don't know what any of us can do about that, and for certain poets whose work is supposed to sound "raw" (such as Kasischke and Waldner) that may not even amount to a disadvantage.
Anything you can do 100 times in 100 poems without learning a new trick isn't worth doing more than twice. Sense is harder than nonesense; order is harder than disorder. But, as Stevens said, "A great disorder is an order"; as Dickenson said, "Much madness is divinest sense / To a discerning eye."
Something by Caleb Crain, somewhat less memorable, followed.