The contrast between the health of poetry in Britain and the US is striking. American poetry has been butchered by the professorsby Michael Lind / July 20, 2001 / Leave a comment
Published in July 2001 issue of Prospect Magazine
at the beginning of the 21st century, the contrast between the relative health of poetry in Britain and its dire condition in the US is striking. In Britain, the Poet Laureate is known if not always respected and the selection of the Professor of Poetry at Oxford makes the newspapers; in the US, nobody can tell you the name of the Poet Laureate (answer: Stanley Kunitz). The best British poets, such as Seamus Heaney, James Fenton, Charles Causley, Tony Harrison and Wendy Cope, use traditional verse techniques in innovative ways to write about a range of subjects in a variety of genres, including political satire and light verse. In the US, by contrast, almost all of the prestige poetry is written in the early 20th-century mode of “free verse”-that is to say, lines of prose chopped up at arbitrary points-and almost all of it consists of relatively short poems, usually a domestic epiphany or a description of a scene or item as its subject. Hardly anyone writes poetry in the US other than professors-and hardly anybody reads it, other than the professors who write it.