Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Drone of Modern Poetry?

"American poetry is ready for something new because our poets have been writing in the same way for a long time now. There is fatigue, something stagnant about the poetry being written today. ...The manner of it has long been mastered. Modernism has passed into the DNA of the MFA programs. For all its schools and experiments, contemporary poetry is still written in the rain shadow thrown by Modernism. It is the engine that drives what is written today. And it is a tired engine. "

--------------------------------------------------------------------------John Barr


John Barr is president of the Poetry Foundation and has served on the boards of the Poetry Society of America, Yaddo, and Bennington College. His books include The Hundred Fathom Curve (1997) and Grace (1999), both from Story Line Press. (From - Poetry: September 2006)


Collin said...

Does John happen to offer up an alternative to what he calls the "drone"? The real drone is that the same poets who have achieved status keep getting published, asked to submit to the journals while those who are experimenting and writing different poetry are left on the outside looking in. MFA programs...some of them anyway...rob poets of their own potential voice to conform with the drone. The cycle must be broken.

Justin Evans said...

I don't know if you saw my poem based upon the quote. If not, scroll down a bit.

Su said...

Barr regurgitates several points that we've been struggling with for some time in American poetry: 1) what has happened in the shadow(s) of modernism; 2) our inability to jump off that 'tired engine'; 3) MFA programs as modes of transfer.

I hold some theories about these issues that seem unrelated but really strike at the heart of Barr's statement:

1) Americans don't learn foreign languages to actually use them. If we did, we'd be exposed to a great deal more 'influences' than we are today. Reliance upon the English language and translations into English have placed a great deal of 'fatigue' on the expectations of poetry because we are limiting our exposure, to some degree, of possibilities less drone than our own (don't you love the rhyme?).

2) MFA programs employ a great many writers who are not good teachers. They do so to get draw on a name, and not necessarily to provide decent teaching & advising to their students.

3) The 'business' of poetry in America is simply out of control. In the U.S., poems are products; poets are products. It is no wonder that MFA programs are spitting out products to produce other products. Assembly lines move at a steady pace, but they are stagnant modes of production.


Hope you don't mind my comment (as opposed to adding these thoughts to my own spewing wreck of a blog), but the Barr quote has been on my mind - your post just stepped in like a clean dry erase board in the middle of the street... I couldn't help but get out my Sharpie and write on it.

Nick said...


No, he does not per se offer up an alternative, but he does describe how a "new poetry" might differ from what we have today.


I hadn't read your post or poem posted as a response to Barr's paper until now. Glad I did, though!


No need to apologize. I post quotes here on this blog for at least two reasons:

1) My own edification and as a written reminder that I should keep abreast of developments in poetics/poetic theory & poetic movements.

2) And so that others might present alternate POVs that will add to the possibilities that I had not envisaged.

Thank you all for presenting your viewpoints.