David Biespiel’s Poetry Wire: 10 Burdens for American Poetry


As with the myth of America, America’s poets believe a poem should go from rags to riches. And yet, why so much surprise when it actually happens?

There is more to American poetry than its genial and hospitable prairie lands. And yet the poetry of its postmodern coasts all too often acts like an immigrant who is naive about the nation’s enigmas and repugnances.

The paradox of American poetry is that it embraces pluralism while being written from inside an empire. Has there ever been a poetry in a country in all of history composed under such conditions?

American poetry has been, is, and always will be taboo free.

America has the most credentialed poets in the history of the world.

As with our political institutions, America’s poets are divided between whalers, non-comformists, and tricksters.

American poets are utopians. The nation’s crimes, their poems say — from genocide to slavery to bigotry — shall be overcome.

The notion of American exceptionalism has not skipped America’s poets. By accepting the privilege to write on any theme, America’s poets exemplify literary chauvinism.

America’s poets hold up the highest principles of American democracy, urban and pastoral fantasies, imperial and isolationist urges, and a secular piety that is a form of poetified religion.

Even though many American poets have experienced life’s disappointments, they are still proponents of the American dream of opportunity and abundance.

David Biespiel is the author of five collections of poetry, most recently Charming Gardeners and The Book of Men and Women, which was named one of the Best Books of the Year by the Poetry Foundation and received the Stafford/Hall Award for Poetry. His book of essays A Long High Whistle: Selected Columns on Poetry received the Frances Fuller Victor Award. More from this author →