A poem is, before anything else, a poem.  I know that sounds like circular logic, but before content descriptions enter the writing process, the demands of prosody need to be met first.  So, before something can become a “horror poem” or a “feminist poem,” demands of form and craft need to be satisfied.   This leads me to the part of Conlon’s Horror Writers Association guest column that speaks to me the most:

A poet must know the traditions. A poet must know Shakespeare and Dryden and Keats and Shelley. For the student of American poetry (which is what anyone who wishes to become an American poet must be) Poe is a good enough starting place, but he or she must quickly move on to Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson—the whole canonical crew.


But, just as a writer of horror fiction would be unlikely to succeed without familiarity with contemporary fiction—not just Stephen King but John Updike, Toni Morrison, Jose Saramago, dozens more—a writer of horror verse must know the major poets of his or her time. Without understanding what’s happening in poetry now, what’s been happening for the past twenty or fifty years, no poet can hope to communicate to readers today. Such poets are left writing imitations, mostly bad ones, of verse modes of a hundred years ago or more.

So, a poet needs to know more than who Lord Byron or Edgar Allan Poe is.  It actually galls me that some people who claim to be serious students of contemporary poetry do not know William Carlos Williams or Ezra Pound.   There’s no such thing as American free verse without those two.  Or, claim that nobody is writing metrical verse these days (Uh…Dana Gioia,  Molly Peacock, Marilynn Hacker, Richard Wilbur, X.J. Kennedy, far too many people to count, and The New Formalist/New Narrative writers that starting gaining attention in the 1980’s.)  The contemporary poetry world is such a huge, diverse, wonderful place — with good things going on from traditional fixed forms to mutations of free verse and the various shades of the avant garde and experimental.  Genre poetry can be fun, but reading it in isolation of the greater traditions outside it is doing one’s self a disservice.

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