Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Great American Poet Lottery


The Great American Poet Lottery

Everybody--okay, about 12 people--
is upset about the state of American poetry.
There was even something about it
on the Puffington Host. What a thing
to get upset about!

None of the upsettees has read a fraction
of what's being written, so they can't really
know the state of American poetry. No one
can read more than a fraction. Spooky, I know.

They're just upset about the poetry they
have read, I guess, and they're entitled.
But they may have missed (wait for it)

the Paradigm Shift. Poetry everywhere lives
in the electronic clouds now, its relationship
to nations and literary management tenuous.

It also refuses to stop propagating, and
that bugs the shit out of some people. Less
is more. Economy of false scarcity.

The upsettees miss the old days. (Randall
Jarrell once wrote that in the Golden Age,
people probably went around complaining

about how yellow everything was.) I don't
agree with the upsettees, but I sympathize.
I'm a sympathizer. They miss those certain days

when anthologies and certain critics and
certain presses told us all who was great.
Anyway, I have a solution. The Great American

Poet Lottery. You enter it by sending in
a poem of yours, see. Drawings held--what?--
weekly? If your poem's picked, you become

a Great American Poet, lounging with Walt,
snoring with Tse Tse, giggling at Emily's
wicked jokes, laughing with Langston.

Okay, sure, a small cash-prize, paid in
Swedish kronor, don't ask me why. If you
become a Great American Poet, you get to

show up drunk and late to every reading
you give and have people still love you.
You're automatically in the running

to become Poet Lariat. (I kind of like
that joke.) You win, and the ones worried
about the state of American poetry win

because they'll have one more reason
to worry about the state of American poetry.
American poetry wins by retaining its

sense of absurdity, its crassness,
and its careening barbaric yawp. And nobody
gets hurt--something that is worth worrying about.

Copyright 2010 Hans Ostrom
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