Poetry is a bit like romance fiction--both suffer from harsh criticism, though for totally opposite reasons. Romance fiction often is criticized for being too "one dimensional" or "formulaic," while poetry--especially modern poetry--often is dismissed as too complicated, too "self-referential" or too far-removed from the concerns of everyday people.
As we saw in our posts about romance fiction, the degree to which such criticisms are accurate very much depends on the particular work being examined. Certainly there is a great deal published in romance fiction, especially category romance fiction, that is formulaic. Just as certainly, a great deal of what passes for modern poetry is pedantic, cloying or just poorly written.
In part, we blame this state of affairs on the major trade publishers. Critical editorial judgment--the traditional counterweight to schlock publishing--seems to be in increasingly short supply among some major publishers. So many editorial departments now take their marching orders from sales & marketing, it is a wonder major trade publishers publish any poetry at all:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux W.W. Norton & Co.
This leaves small--often very small--independent publishers to take up the slack. And, of course, self-publishing....
Although many independent publishers do a very credible job with very limited resources, and although there appears the occasionally exceptional self-published work, the results--taken as a whole--are, at best, variable. This state of affairs is hardly conducive to public appreciation of poetry.
Which is unfortunate. Because there are some really excellent poets out there who are struggling to make themselves heard.
How to seek out these voices, how to build a private library of these voices, will be the subject of our next few posts....