Summer in the trees! "It is time to strangle several bad poets."
--Kenneth Koch, "Fresh Air."
I guess anyone who reads poetry could identify with Koch at one time or another. More than one time for me. Each day I must resolve to fight my violent tendencies for fear of being returned to my cushioned room in the hospital's psychiatric wing, which isn't really a wing. Actually, it's not really a hospital, but it's what passes for health care in America.
Anyway, I recently ran across an article in Arf--no, my mistake, Bark (Do it! Bark! Bark like a little bitch!) entitled (or even if it's not) "A Field Guide to Bad Poets," in which the author, Brett--not really a catchy enough name to go surnameless,in my opinion--characterizes poets from six schools of poetry, creating humorous thumbnail sketches of each.
Here I use "humorous" to mean "intended to be funny" with no wish to imply any other meaning, such as damp or moist, capricious, given to moods, or actually funny. Also, as long as I'm parsing meanings, "characterizes" may be too generous a word for "stereotypes": confessional poets are suicidal & self-obsessed, nature poets are disconnected tree-huggers, neo-beatniks are drugged-out anarchists, political poets are whacky leftist extremists, experimental poets make no sense & slam poets trivialize important social issues for the sake of drama.
Ok, he nailed slam poets pretty much dead on, but slam poetry is more performance art than actual poetry, so it's my view not to credit slam poetry as a poetic form. I feel the same way about Ann Coulter; no one--not even Bill Maher, especially not Bill Maher--should ever have her on TV as a political pundit again. Soon she will shrivel & die. Hell, she's over halfway there already!
Early in the article, Brett (you know, using one name reminds me of another type of poet, the type that uses only one name as an affectation, the type that is often the butt, often deservedly, of jokes about pretentious types) says of confessional poets: "While such work can be quite powerful (see Sylvia Plath and John Berryman), in the hands of an amateur this poetry style is prone to oversharing." Good point, Brett. By extension, could we not also argue that a similar qualifier could be made about the other schools of poets? Excluding, of course, slam poets.
I can give numerous examples of poets, not merely Plath & Berryman, from each of the schools who write good poems, but I'll limit myself to the obvious. When I think of the experimental, E.E. Cummings, an immensely talented & popular poet, comes immediately to mind. To an extent, the New York School produced work that was experimental in that it rejected the stale, stolid, academic poetics of its day. Mary Oliver writes well-crafted poetry about nature & I seriously doubt she's some sort of hippie tree-hugger. Some consider Pablo Neruda the greatest poet of the 20th century, though much of his poetry had a decidedly leftist political slant. I'm not sure what Brett means by "neo-beatnik," but if he means Beat poets, Allen Ginsberg enjoyed great success as a poet. If he means non-academic poets, then Charles Bukowski fits the bill. Certainly numerous bad Bukowski imitators have appeared, but my point is that there are good poets & bad poets in all schools & to conceive of them as a homogenous group is as absurd as it is cliche.
I don't want to spend too much time criticizing an article obviously intended as a joke, but in just the same way that comedians who rely on ethnic, gender & socio-economic/socio-geographic humor proliferate stereotypes, so too do writers such as Brett (who's not only too lazy to have a surname, but also too lazy to write about something more substantial than preconceived generalizations about poetic types) reinforce misconceptions about poets & poetry.
Finally, he blames experimental poets' lack of accessibility for poetry's abysmal popularity, but I'm unaware of a time since the advent of the novel as an accepted literary form that poets have enjoyed wide readership. The onus of responsibility for that fact lies not entirely with poets, but also with poetry's gatekeepers, i.e., editors & publishers who determine what poetry the public should appreciate. If the public doesn't, then it seems reasonable to suggest that maybe the gatekeepers should admit their failure & try something different or else move along.