So there is a totem pole in the poetry world, and I am somewhere at the bottom of it. Somewhere wayyy down at the bottom of it. But I know some things about poetry, and I read several books of poetry a year. I'm not in the dark is what I'm saying. I try to be in the scene without being cliquey, and I piss off as many people as like me. Maybe more people in poetry hate me than like me. I'm never sure about that.
But here's the thing: The National Book Foundation just announced its shortlist for the National Book Award, and I only immediately recognized one of the names on it. I figured out that I'd heard of another before writing this. Here are the nominees:
Frank Bidart, Watching the Spring Festival (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Mark Doty, Fire to Fire: New and Collected Poems (HarperCollins)
Reginald Gibbons, Creatures of a Day (Louisiana State University Press)
Richard Howard, Without Saying (Turtle Point Press)
Patricia Smith, Blood Dazzler (Coffee House Press)
At first I thought that I was out of touch, that I don't know shit about the thing I dedicate the largest portion of my time to. But now I'm not so sure. Am I the one out of touch because I think that poetry should excite, that it should be the writing mode that influences all others? Am I out of touch because I think that poetry needs to entertain and deserves a readership outside of the poetic community? I understand that the NBA and the Pulitzer are often given as lifetime achievement awards more than for one piece of work, especially when it comes to poetry, but I don't even know who these people are. Maybe I'm a cliquey bitch. Maybe I'm the one wearing the costume. Maybe these are the best poets of my generation, and I'm just too dumb to know it.
But here's what Oprah knows for sure: the big awards committees for poetry are naff.