Although I read and teach a lot of Old School poetry, I also try to continue to read contemporary poets, although it's hard to keep up with the all the poetry that's out there. That's not cause for despair; it's actually cause for celebration. Professor and writer Judith Johnson, I believe, applied the term "a false economy of scarcity" to the impulse some people have to create narrow canons of literature--an impulse that may be guided in part by a fear of abundance. An abundance of literature may make some people feel as if literature is "out of control." It may be out of their control, but it's not out of control. Some people may feel as if, with new literature pouring out all the time, "the standards" may disappear. Canons shift all the time; just look at any poetry anthology from the 19th or early 20th centuries. Standards vary according to criteria, in spite of a yearning to establish the indisputable list of great works.
Among the contemporary poets I've enjoyed reading are, in no particular order, Natasha Trethewey, Marilyn Chin, Mark Halliday, Jim Daniels, Virgil Suarez, Rita Dove, and Kevin Clark--to name only a handful. I like some of Sherman Alexie's poetry, and I've enjoyed poems by Gary Soto, too. I'm partial to my late friend Wendy Bishop's posthumous collection, My Last Door, but I think even if I hadn't known Wendy, I'd be impressed with it.
I also just like reading poetry in the magazines in which I publish, or in magazines I just pick up. Often I don't remember the name of the poet whose work I like. But there's good poetry appearing all the time. In recent years, I've placed a few poems in British magazines, and it's nice to see what sorts or things are going on poetically over there. I've read a smattering of contemporary Swedish poetry in Swedish, and I even translated one. It's by Marie Silkeberg, from her collection, Black Mercury. It appears in a book I wrote with Wendy Bishop and Kate Haake, Metro: Journeys in Writing Creatively. Here's the untitled poem (in English):
Mother! my son called in the night.
Mother! I can't see you.
You can, my precious.
You can see my voice.
Listen to the sky now, so wildly blue,
And to black birds when they fly.
Thanks again to Marie Silkeberg.
Copryight Marie Silkeberg; translation copyright Hans Ostrom 2007.