I want to share a piece I read in the City Paper, online, from years ago. I was trolling for some piece of information - what I can't remember now, and happened - happily - upon this letter to the editors. It is dead-on accurate about the sorry state of poetry today and the argument is made articulately and eloquently. The writer of the letter is Jenny Keith. I want to thank her for writing this and hope she doesn't mind me posting it here!
"To me, the reason for small press' woes is simple: It's the so-called poets who don't care about poetry. We tell ourselves that it's the public that doesn't appreciate good writing, and that's why there's no market. That's simply not true; Lucille Clifton reads to rooms that are packed to capacity. Publishers do not have to ask Anthony Hecht to stuff envelopes.
A few local poets care deeply about poetry, and it shows in their work. But why is it so hard to find new stuff by these few, including David Beaudouin, Richard Sober, or Eleanor Lewis? Perhaps, like the small-press editors, they are discouraged by the tidal wave of bad poetry around.
Why is it that so many folks sending their works to journals have never heard of nationally published and acclaimed locals like Joe Harrison, Matt Brenneman, or Greg Williamson? These poets' work shows what you can do if you are just bug-nuts talented, and then work, practice, study, and read like mad. These poets are not just lucky--they are good. Maybe even great.
Good art requires talent and hard work, and, unfortunately--heartbreakingly--most of us who write poems don't have it or won't do it. But we try and get published anyway, because we mistakenly think our name is more important than poetry itself.
That's why it's kind of unfair to hound the public to "support" small-press poetry. Readers get sick of trying to pick a diamond or two from a mound of broken glass--and having to pay for the experience. When the poetry is good enough, eventually it will get read and respected.
When more poets themselves start to care about poetry--really and truly care--we will understand the hard fact that not everyone is talented, and a few of us will have the courage to sit down. Or we will try harder to do the most with what talent we have. We will buy, read, and study the work of poets who are much better than we are and try to get closer to making something of beauty and value. Real poets are the servants of poetry; it's not the other way around."
I call to the poets with talent, and who care, to start making your voices heard, and to literary magazines to have higher standards and be more discriminating. If you don't - poetry is a lost art we may never be able to save.